Unregistered, uncompensated 'lobbyist' loses case against Missouri Ethics Commission over free-speech claims

By Charmaine Little | Dec 6, 2018

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri man accused of being an unregistered lobbyist was denied his request for a permanent injunction against the Missouri Ethics Commission in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit amid his accusations the entity violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Ronald Calzone is the incorporator, president, director, registered agent and a board member of the nonprofit Missouri First, which has a mission to lobby legislators over public policy.

Calzone has met with legislators, their staff and various other agencies to chat about the state law in which he gave his own and Missouri First’s thoughts on whether a law should be passed or shut down, the court ruling said.

However, Calzone never received compensation for his role, and he filed the lawsuit against the ethics commission after it received two complaints against him, saying he violated Missouri statutes by failing to register as a lobbyist or file lobbying reports.

A lower court and denied Calzone's request for a permanent injunction against the commission before the appeals court upheld the ruling in a decision published on Nov. 28.

Among other arguments, Calzone insisted that the requirement to have lobbyists be registered should only apply to lobbyists who are compensated.

However, the appeals court said the government registered all lobbyists whether they were paid or not. The appeals court favored the ethics commission’s argument that it sought as much transparency as possible.

Circuit Judge Bobby Shepherd authored the opinion and Circuit Judge Steven Colloton concurred. Circuit Judge David Stras dissented, saying Missouri’s lobbyist-disclosure policy oversteps constitutional boundaries by restricting activities without “either adequate justification or narrow enough tailoring."

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