KANSAS CITY – The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District recently upheld a lower court’s ruling that said a 2016 state campaign rule prohibits businesses from giving money to political action committees (PACs) they create.
The appeals court issued the opinion filed April 9 regarding the state’s Amendment 2, which voters approved in 2016, involving political contributions from businesses.
The Missouri Ethics Commission, which enforces the state’s campaign-finance laws, had interpreted Amendment 2 to mean that “a corporation … may not contribute its own funds to its connected PAC, but that it may contribute direct corporate … funds to an ‘unconnected’ PAC."
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce challenged the Ethics Commission interpretation in Coles County Circuit Court, contending Amendment 2 allows contributions from a corporation’s treasury to a political action committee (PAC) established, administered, or maintained by the corporation.
The chamber, in a statement issued April 9, said the opinion creates “a confusing situation for businesses – they can set up their own political action committees, but cannot fund them.” In the release, Chamber President Daniel P. Mehan said the organization will explore its options.
“Businesses have every right to participate in our state’s political process. But to do so, they need clear, rational rules to follow – they don’t have this in Missouri right now,” Mehan said. “This ruling is a step backward in our state and shields this set of needlessly confusing regulations. We will continue to explore all our options to ensure business advocates are not uniquely hindered in their work to support positive political change.”
Failing to comply with the Ethics Commissions campaign-finance rules can result in sanctions from the commission as well as financial and criminal penalties.
The chamber’s challenge to the Ethics Commission’s ruling went to trial in Coles County Circuit Court in March 2018. The court ruled against the chamber and backed the Ethics Commission.
The appeals court said in the opinion, “Read as a whole, the plain and ordinary meaning of Amendment 2’s language prohibits corporations from contributing directly to committees associated with a candidate or political party but allows corporations to establish and support connected committees, which may both make and receive contributions from individuals associated with the corporation.”
The appeals court also wrote that Amendment 2 "expressly states that, in adopting this
constitutional amendment, the voters were attempting to address the potentially unfair influence
of corporate political contributions on elections. To accomplish this purpose, (Amendment 2) bans
contributions by corporations to committees associated with candidates or political parties."
Chief Judge Karen King Mitchell wrote the appeals court opinion with Judges Alok Ahuja and Thomas N. Chapman concurring.