Judge upholds rejection of spending limit amendment

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit government spending lost an effort to get the measure before voters this November, as a judge ruled Monday that their paperwork was illegally disorganized.

Cole County Judge Richard Callahan upheld Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's decision rejecting the petition. He was expected to rule later Monday on Carnahan's decision to similarly deny a proposed constitutional amendment restricting the use of eminent domain.

Both amendments were sponsored by a group called Missourians in Charge, which turned in hundreds of thousands of petition signatures in May just minutes before the deadline.

An attorney for the group had argued the disorganized pages were merely clerical or technical errors allowed under law and that Missourians in Charge had shown "substantial compliance" with the organizational law. Attorney Timothy Belz, of St. Louis, also had claimed that, by rejecting the petitions, Carnahan had infringed upon the people's constitutional right to pursue initiative petitions.

Callahan rejected all of those arguments in the case of the spending limit amendment.

About 17 percent of the petition pages were not organized properly for the spending limit proposal, whereas about 4 percent of the eminent domain pages were not properly organized, according to court documents filed by Missourians in Charge.

It was clear, the judge said, that the petition pages were not all numbered sequentially by county solely because supporters ran out of time. The number of noncompliant pages on the spending limit measure was "too large to excuse without vitiating the statute," Callahan wrote in his ruling.

State laws generally are entitled to a presumption of constitutionality, Callahan said, and Missourians in Charge has failed to show how the organizational procedures passed by the Legislature illegally limited the right to initiative petition.

Besides the organizational issues, Carnahan also cited a second reason for rejecting the eminent domain proposal. She noted that all the petition's signatures were submitted on pages bearing a financial summary previously deemed insufficient and unfair by a judge.

Supporters of the ballot measure said they had no time to gather signatures under the revised financial summary, which was approved just two days before the petition deadline.

Missourians in Charge raised $2.3 million and spent more than $2.1 million in its effort to gather petition signatures for the two ballot proposals, according to a campaign finance report filed last week with the state Ethics Commission.

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