JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court reinstated campaign contribution limits Thursday, but it’s unclear whether politicians will be forced to return millions of dollars they have collected since the limits were lifted in January.
The court, in a unanimous decision, overturned a lower judge who had thrown out a fundraising ban for elected officials and challengers during the legislative session but kept intact the overall repeal of Missouri’s individual contribution limits.
The Supreme Court said the legislative history of the bill indicated lawmakers would not have repealed contribution limits if the donation blackout period was not in effect.
The court noted that when the measure was debated by the Senate, it considered —and rejected — an amendment that would have allowed unlimited contributions without a blackout period.
“That the two provisions were inseparably connected and dependent upon each other is conclusively proven by the fact that the Senate amendment to decouple the provisions failed,” the Supreme Court said Thursday in an opinion written by Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which was charged with defending the law, said simply that the ruling restores contribution limits lawmakers passed more than a decade ago.
A Cole County circuit judge in March upheld the removal of contribution limits but tossed out the ban on fundraising during the session as a violation of free-speech rights. The judge also tossed a couple of sections forbidding certain people from running for office, but the Supreme Court restored those parts of the bill.
Those provisions disqualified people from running for office if they are delinquent on property taxes for their home or for a state-contracted license office, or convicted of state felonies.
To be decided later is how to handle the millions of dollars in contributions that candidates have received under the no-holds-barred fundraising that has been allowed since the judge temporarily blocked the ban in January. The Supreme Court asked attorneys to file briefs on that by Aug. 3.