Ethics Commission ruling could close financial gap between Nixon, Blunt

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | 1:26 p.m. CDT; updated 2:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon chipped into the cash advantage of Republican Gov. Matt Blunt during the past quarter as next year’s gubernatorial rivals continued to rake in sizable amounts money.

Blunt’s campaign reported $6 million on hand as of the end of September, while Nixon’s reported $2.7 million, according to filings Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Nixon’s gap was about $90,000 smaller than it was three months ago.

But it could shrink considerably more if the Missouri Ethics Commission decides that both candidates must return donations they received earlier this year in excess of Missouri’s contribution limits.

Blunt has significantly more at stake than Nixon — roughly $4.2 million in potential refunds compared with about $1.3 million. Included in Blunt’s total is a $250,000 check, reported Monday, that the governor received in July from the Supporters of Health Research and Treatments, a political action committee that backs embryonic stem cell research.

Until the Ethics Commission decides what to do, both candidates must essentially set aside enough money to cover the potential refunds. Without the possible refund money, Blunt would have about $1.8 million available for his campaign compared with Nixon’s $1.4 million.

The refund potential exists because, from Jan. 1 to July 19, candidates were allowed to accept donations of unlimited size. But that ended when the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a law that had repealed the state’s campaign contribution limits.

As a result, the limits are back in place, meaning individuals, businesses and political action committees can contribute no more than $1,275 per election to candidates running for statewide offices such as governor.

In a follow-up decision Aug. 27, the Supreme Court indicated its ruling should apply retroactively. But it left it to the Ethics Commission to decide if particular candidates should be spared from refunds because they had relied on the law in place at the time and would face a hardship if forced to return the money.

Although the commission has taken no definitive action yet, it decided last month to calculate the amount of over-the-limit donations candidates received and then use its normal hearing procedures for those who claim they should not have to refund the money. The commission is to meet again about the topic in early November.

The Republican Party has fought the refunds while the Democratic Party has advocated for them.

Nixon has said he will refund the money but that he is waiting to do so until Blunt also agrees to refund the money. The governor has not yet done so.

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