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Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

November 2, 2014

JAMES KLAHR, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, Defendants.


ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.


Plaintiff is a "political organization" within the meaning of section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. It was formed on October 22, 2014 with the intent of collecting contributions and expending money to advocate for Proposition 10, a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that will be voted upon during the November 4, 2014 general election. To that end, Plaintiff endeavored to register as a "campaign committee" as required by Missouri statutes. However, Missouri statutes preclude Plaintiff from collecting or spending money to support Proposition 10 because it did not register as a campaign committee at least thirty days before the election.

Section 130.011 of the Revised Missouri Statutes defines a "campaign committee" in terms that include limitations on what a campaign committee is and can do. In pertinent part, the statute provides as follows:

a committee, other than a candidate committee, which shall be formed by an individual or group of individuals to receive contributions or make expenditures and whose sole purpose is to support or oppose the qualification and passage of one or more particular ballot measures in an election... shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures....

Section 130.011 thus creates a blackout period during which a campaign committee cannot collect or expend funds. This blackout period exists for the first thirty days of the campaign committee's existence.

On October 30, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit alleging this restriction on its ability to collect and expend funds to support Proposition 10 violates the First Amendment and seeking an injunction to protect itself from the adverse effects of violating section 130.011. Shortly after 11:00 a.m. on October 31, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. The Court conducted a telephonic hearing at 3:30 p.m. that same day; both parties participated.

Any person who violates the provisions of Chapter 130 may be found guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Mo. Rev. Stat. ยง 130.081.1. However, Defendant is not empowered to prosecute criminal violations. Defendant James Klahr has been sued in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission ("the Commission"). During the hearing, Defendant's counsel conceded Defendant has the power to conduct investigations and assess fines against campaign committees that violate Missouri's election laws, including section 130.011.


Whether a TRO should be issued "involves consideration of (1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the state of the balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant; (3) the probability that movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest." Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C.L. Sys., Inc. , 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981) (en banc). The most important of these factors is the plaintiff's likelihood of success. E.g., S & M Constructors, Inc. v. Foley Co. , 959 F.2d 97, 98 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 863 (1992). Consequently, the Court elects to consider that factor first.

A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

The First Amendment protects the right to participate in the political process, and this includes the right to participate in the political process by making political donations or spending money to express one's political views. E.g., McCutcheon v. FEC , 134 S.Ct. 1434, 1441 (2014). There are, however, a variety of governmental interests (of varying degrees of importance) that might justify limiting or regulating political contributions and expenditures. The collision of these interests with the First Amendment has wrought a long line of Supreme Court decisions (starting, probably, with Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976)) and corresponding reactions from Congress and state legislatures attempting to vindicate those interests within the confines of the First Amendment. The time allotted does not permit the Court to fully explore the many relevant decisions (and nuances therein). In crude summary, expenditure limits directly limit speech, and therefore are subject to exacting scrutiny. A limit on expenditures to support or oppose a candidate or issue must promote a compelling governmental interest and be the least restrictive means of accomplishing that interest. E.g., McCutcheon , 134 S.Ct. at 1444. Limits on contributions receive a lesser, but still significant, degree of scrutiny. Such limits are valid "if the State demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgement of associational freedoms." Id . (quotations omitted).

The Supreme Court has "identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption" and has "consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives.... The First Amendment prohibits... legislative attempts to fine-tune the electoral process, no matter how well intentioned." McCutcheon , 134 S.Ct. at 1450 (quotation omitted). Moreover, the legislature may target only one type of corruption: quid pro quo corruption. Id . There is no need to delve into the contours of what quid pro quo corruption is (or is not) for two reasons. First, Defendant did not contend the blackout period created by section 130.011 is intended to prevent corruption of any kind. Second, as a matter of logic it is difficult to apprehend any risk of a quid pro quo corruption: while a candidate could theoretically promise "governmental rewards" in exchange for campaign contributions, a ballot issue cannot.

Instead, Defendant contends the blackout period promotes the State's interest in informing voters of the sources of election-related spending. This interest has been recognized as valid and has most often been posited as justifying disclosure requirements. In fact, this issue was addressed in Buckley. See Citizens United v. FEC , 558 U.S. 310, 367 (2010) (discussing Buckley). "Disclaimer and disclosure requirements may burden the ability to speak, but they impose no ceiling on campaignrelated activities and do not prevent anyone from speaking. The Court has subjected these requirements to ...

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