State proposal on returning donations exempts McCaskill, others

Saturday, July 28, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Sen. Claire McCaskill and others working to pay off old campaign debts could benefit if the state Supreme Court follows the state's suggested model for reinstating Missouri's campaign contribution limits.

A brief filed by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, on behalf of the state and the Ethics Commission, says a recent Supreme Court ruling reimposing contribution limits should apply retroactive to January, when a law took effect removing the limits.

But he said the court should make an exception for those whose election already occurred or who closed their committees before the court struck down the law July 19. The brief specifically suggests that debt committees should not have to make refunds, reasoning the opposing candidate is not harmed because the vote already happened.

If the court agrees, that would allow McCaskill to keep money she raised to pay off a $1.6 million personal loan in her failed 2004 governor's race. McCaskill is one of 50 candidates with debt committees that are still active or have closed since January, but many of those did not raise funds above the contribution limits.

If the court requires all of them to return money collected over the limits, McCaskill would have to give back at least $94,750. She had 26 contributions this year in excess of the limit of $1,275 for a statewide race, campaign finance reports indicate.

Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca claimed Thursday that the legal filing amounts to a gift for McCaskill from Nixon, a fellow Democrat.

"This is Jay Nixon's sneaky little way of getting Claire McCaskill off the hook," Sloca said. "Jay Nixon wants everyone else to pay back the money they collected under the old campaign finance law but doesn't want the Democratic senator from Missouri to play by the same rules."

McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh responded simply: "Whatever the courts decide, we'll abide by."

But Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti fired back: "So far Gov. Blunt and the Republicans have gone to great lengths to justify keeping millions Blunt has taken from wealthy special interests."

Republican Gov. Matt Blunt's staff also criticized Nixon's legal filing, but didn't say whether the governor believes contributions collected above the limits should be returned as a result of the Supreme Court's decision.

"Governor Blunt has said this is a matter for the court and he will continue to comply with whatever structure exists," spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said in a written statement.

Other candidates for state-level offices, including Republicans Jack Jackson and Sandra Thomas -- both of whom ran for auditor last year -- reported no contributions higher than the old limits. Another Republican auditor candidate, John Loudon, would have to return $23,350.

Alvin Brooks, a Democrat who ran for mayor in Kansas City, could have to return about $60,000 raised to retire his debt. Seven other candidates with debt committees -- two for Kansas City mayor and five for legislative seats -- would collectively need to give back about $79,000, if the court determines its ruling applies back to January.

McCaskill gave herself a $1.6 million loan and defeated incumbent Gov. Bob Holden in the 2004 Democratic primary. When she lost the general election, she remained as state auditor and then defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Talent in last year's elections.

The Federal Election Commission ruled this year that federal restrictions don't apply to McCaskill's effort to recover her old state campaign debt, allowing her to raise money under state law.

But McCaskill pledged to follow self-imposed limits using federal rules as guidelines, even though Missouri candidates could raise unlimited money for about six months.

Federal law allows a maximum of $4,600 from individuals and $10,000 from political action committees during an election cycle.

Missouri law gives candidates 18 months to pay off campaign debts. McCaskill moved the debt to her state auditor campaign committee in March 2005, giving her extra time to repay it. Last year, she restructured her auditor committee into a debt service committee, giving her even more time.

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