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Time running short for Mo. campaign finance issues

Time is running short for any legislative efforts to tighten Missouri’s campaign finance rules by limiting contributions and requiring more political organizations to disclose donors.

Campaign finance and ethics reform have taken a secondary position at the Capitol, where much of the focus has been on economic development, taxes and the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor. Lawmakers have about a month left before their mandatory adjournment.

Gov. Jay Nixon called for reinstating campaign contribution caps in his State of the State speech in January, saying limitless contributions erode public trust. Nixon said if lawmakers did not act this year, he would “do everything in my power to get it on the ballot and make sure it passes.”

Nixon’s office said this past week that the governor “stands by what he said during the State of the State address.”

Republicans generally have defended Missouri’s current system and have said capping donations creates an incentive to circumvent the limits and thereby obscure from where money has flowed. Missouri currently requires contributions of more than $5,000 to show up within 48 hours on the state Ethics Commission website. GOP officials also have noted that Nixon accepted six-figure checks during his re-election campaign.

Legislation backed by House Democrats would create a $5,000 per donor cap for the Legislature and statewide offices. It has not yet been referred to a committee. The Democrats’ bill also includes a limit on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and immediate family members.

Republican leaders said before the start of the session the Legislature would consider ways to require more transparency for political groups.

Shortly before the August primary, a political committee criticized some state Senate candidates’ position on energy issues. The committee reported receiving a $275,000 contribution from a not-for-profit group that was organized shortly before the contribution was made. The political committee was required to report its finances, but the not-for-profit was not required to do so. The shuffling made it difficult to determine the original source of the funds.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said he is not sure his chamber will be able to tackle legislation dealing with such groups.

“We’ve been working on our business, pro-growth strategies, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to address those items — at least as Senate legislation this year,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles. “But we’ll continue to take a look at them.”

Economic development and other issues also have bubbled to the forefront in the House.

“I’ve been focused on a lot of these larger issues that I think affect Missourians more than inside-the-Beltway ethics discussions: issues of jobs, education, Medicaid, energy,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

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