Maybe I’m just paying more attention than usual to the ballot process for November’s election, but it seems like November’s crop of proposed amendments and legislative issues is a little more dramatic than usual. We’ve got two competing amendments looking to legalize medical marijuana in entirely different ways, we’ve got an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage coming up after the state ruled that cities have no business raising their own minimum wage, and then there’s the courtroom drama. Amendment 1, the Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and Redistricting Initiative, (better known as Clean Missouri) just survived a major court challenge and is back on the ballot after a circuit judge ordered it off the ballot last week.
What’s the trouble with Amendment 1? Opponents say it’s poorly written and tries to make too many unrelated changes at once. Supporters say opponents are afraid of the reforms it will require. Let’s break it down.
Amendment 1 has four main ideas:
- Legislative transparency – Under this amendment, all legislative records would be classed as “public records”, including records of legislative proceedings and votes. Members of the public would also be guaranteed the right to record legislative meetings, so long as they weren’t being disruptive. Missouri currently has a Sunshine Law, but it’s a state statute, not a constitutional provision.
- Redistricting – Amendment 1 would make major changes to the way that state legislative districts are drawn. That might not sound very exciting, but it could have a huge effect on state government and who represents you. Right now, legislative districts are drawn by committees of the state legislature, and approved by the governor. This means that current state lawmakers have some freedom to set up districts in a way that gives them the best chance of re-election. Amendment 1 would create a non-partisan position, state demographer, and require the person in that position to draw districts that promote competition between the parties. The amendment also includes some ideas about how to use math to check whether a district is fair and competitive or not. (Your humble correspondent is a HUGE NERD about redistricting, but I don’t want to get too into the mathematics of it here. That’s another post for another day.)
- Lobbying – The proposed Amendment would require anybody who serves as a legislator or a legislative employee to wait two years before becoming a paid lobbyist, or even looking for a job as a paid lobbyist. The Amendment also limits lobbyist gifts to legislators to things worth $5 or less. There’s an exception here – if you are related to a legislator, the limit doesn’t apply. I imagine that’s so we don’t see people getting in trouble because they gave their cousin, who happens to be a Missouri lawmaker, a birthday present. But I also imagine that we might see a new trend of lobbying firms hiring legislators’ relatives. Maybe. Unless that’s already illegal. (Note to self: Is that already illegal? It’s an interesting question.)
- Campaign finance – This is the big one. First off, the Amendment would ban the legislature from passing any law allowing for unlimited campaign contributions. Then, it would limit donations to candidate campaigns – any person or committee would only be able to give $2,000 to a campaign to elect a state representative, or $2,500 to elect a state senator. There’s some other business in there about how it’s not a good idea to form sock puppet committees to make more donations, or to pretend to be someone else, that sort of thing. It also stops Missouri candidates from taking money from federal PACs unless the donor PAC is registered appropriately in Missouri and agrees to play by Missouri’s rules. Finally, it bans candidates from campaigning on state property, which, frankly, I thought was already illegal. But there you are.
So that’s what’s in the Amendment. Still with me? Okay, good. If you want to get further into the details of Amendment 1, the full version of the petition is available from the Secretary of State’s website.
The legal challenge was brought by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their complaint was focused on a rule that proposed Amendments have to amend only a single article of the state Constitution, and have a single purpose. Initially, a Cole County judge agreed that the initiative was too broad. But today, an appellate court overturned that decision, saying that the single purpose of the initiative was “regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests”. So Amendment 1 is back on the ballot for now, but today’s decision is likely to be appealed again, to the Missouri Supreme Court. Whatever happens, folks who want to strike this issue from the ballot will have to act fast. The usual deadline for changes to ballots is six weeks before the date of the election, and that’s this coming Tuesday, 9/26.