JEFFERSON CITY — An initiative petition meant to clean up ethics in Missouri government and overhaul redistricting in the state was struck from the November ballot by a Cole County Circuit judge Friday, in part, for being too broad.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green ruled that Amendment 1, known as Clean Missouri, dealt with “two different and extremely broad purposes,” which violates the Missouri Constitution.
Attorney Edward Greim, who represents opponents to the measure, celebrated Green’s ruling Friday.
“It reaffirms, I think, what everyone has been talking about since the day this was certified for circulation. The proponents of this measure knew this was a flawed measure. They had plenty of time to go back and simply separate this out into its constituent parts, and it speaks volumes they decided not to do that,” Greim said. “I think the law has finally caught with them.”
Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents the Clean Missouri campaign, said in a statement that the campaign will appeal the ruling immediately.
“We have always thought that this legal matter would be decided at the Appeals Court level,” Hatfield said. “This is a speed bump, but the law is on our side, the people are on our side, and Amendment 1 will be passed in November to clean up Missouri politics.”
Clean Missouri has a little over a week until the 5 p.m. Sept. 25 “drop-dead” date, a deadline for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to make a final announcement to local election authorities as to which proposals must be placed on the ballot.
Hatfield tweeted Friday that the Court of Appeals has accepted his notice of appeal.
“We will file a brief this weekend and expect the matter to be heard next week,” Hatfield wrote.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office, which is responsible for approving the initiative petitions, is reviewing the ruling and determining next steps, said Mary Compton, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office.
The petition would have amended the Missouri Constitution to:
- Drastically change the process and criteria for drawing state legislative districts.
- Tighten limits on campaign contributions state legislators can accept.
- Ban lobbyist gifts over $5.
- Require state legislators to wait two years after they have left the General Assembly to become paid lobbyists.
- Prohibit political fundraising from candidates or members of the General Assembly on state property.
- Require state legislators to be subject to Missouri’s open-records law.
In Green’s ruling, he said that the proposed changes to the Missouri Constitution covered two different purposes: “(1) the organization of the General Assembly; and (2) ethics or campaign finance regulation aimed at avoiding misconduct by public officials in multiple branches and levels of government.”
Article XII of the Missouri Constitution states that proposed amendments to the constitution should not “contain more than one subject.” Green said in his ruling that this provision in the constitution prevents “logrolling,” which is when unrelated subjects that may not generate support individually are combined to gain the necessary support.
Two weeks ago, attorneys representing Clean Missouri and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, whose office approves ballot measures, insisted that the proposed amendment dealt with one issue: accountability measures for the Missouri legislature.
Opponents to the proposal argued otherwise, citing the 1990 Missouri Supreme Court ruling Missourians to Protect Initiative Process v. Blunt, which struck down an initiative on the grounds that it violated the single-subject rule.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Paul Ritter, whom is a Miller County resident and officer in the Miller County Republican Club, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed to the multiple subjects of the amendment as a main tenet for why it should be thrown out.
Greim, who represented Ritter, criticized the Clean Missouri campaign as “reaching out for votes” by proposing a new system for drawing legislative districts that would task the state auditor with helping to select a newly created nonpartisan state demographer, who would draft districts that aim to achieve partisan fairness. The demographer would be appointed by the state auditor, according to Clean Missouri’s proposed amendments.
In his ruling, Green agreed with the larger issues at fault, but pointed to inconsistencies in the ballot initiative’s text that plaintiffs raised, such as misplaced commas, as insufficient reasons for it to be thrown off the ballot.
At the hearing, Green stressed that his judgment was not on the proposal’s value, but whether it met the requirements of the Missouri Constitution.
“As the Court pointed out at the hearing, nothing in this decision should be construed as an endorsement or repudiation of the underlying issues presented by the initiative petition. ...This Judgment is not to be interpreted as either support for, or opposition to, this initiative. It is not for this court to say whether the measure is wisdom or folly,” Green reiterated in a footnote in the ruling’s text.
State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, a supporter of the Clean Missouri initiative, said the judge’s reading of the proposal is wrong because all of the items are related.
“All the items dealt with the legislature, every single one of them,” he said.
State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said the ballot measure is necessary because Republicans in the legislature have been unwilling to approve ethics reform.
“This was the opportunity, because the public is demanding that we be ethical here in Jefferson City,” she said.
The initiative has been enveloped in fierce political debate since it was first introduced.
A group known as Missourians First was formed in July to oppose the measure, with former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican, acting as its chairman.
Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, a frequent critic of the initiative, said Friday she was thrilled by Green’s ruling.
While Conway said she was in favor of transparency, she couldn’t support the petition’s proposed redistricting process, in which “nobody’s interest is going to be served.”
“I think the redistricting part is strictly politically motivated on both sides,” Conway said. “This isn’t about Kathy Conway drawing her district so she will always win, this is just the make up now of how Missouri is. Missouri has gone pretty red, and that’s just the way it is.”
Conway said she felt the initiative was ultimately an effort to get more Democrats elected to office and predicts the initiative will appear on the next ballot as separate issues.
“We can’t draw our own district lines. It’s a very fair process how those lines are drawn,” she said.
The Missouri GOP also praised Green’s ruling Friday in a statement.
“From the beginning, Clean Missouri has used the guise of ethics reform and sleek marketing to distract Missourians from their real aim: radically redistricting Missouri to solely benefit liberal Democrats,” said Chris Nuelle, spokesperson for the Missouri Republican Party. “Additionally, Clean Missouri was endorsed by George Soros, far-left groups, and is funded by ‘dark money’ – there’s simply nothing ‘clean’ about it.”
The group has raised at least $2.1 million since January, campaign finance records show; $1.1 million of that money came from out-of-state donors since June.
Clean Missouri accepted more than $600,000 in donations from Action Now Initiative, an organization identified by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as not being required to disclose its donors and drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers.
While the issues the initiative touches on are political in nature, Greim insisted Green’s ruling was not.
“The underlying political dispute is partisan, but the law is not,” Greim said. “The single subject rule is what Green’s decision is about. It’s not about the pros or cons of the decision. I would be shocked if any person claimed otherwise, or somehow claimed politics is involved here.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.