Nixon's campaign declined to say whether he would follow through on the refunds if Blunt does not.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon said Wednesday that he is prepared to return any money raised for his gubernatorial campaign that exceeded the state's recently reimposed contribution limits.
Republican Gov. Matt Blunt made no such commitment. And Nixon's campaign declined to say whether he would follow through on the refunds if Blunt does not.
The Missouri Ethics Commission decided Tuesday to notify candidates who received excess contributions that they may be in violation of campaign finance laws as a result of a recent state Supreme Court decision.
The court in mid-July struck down a law repealing Missouri's individual contribution limits as of January, ruling the allowance for unlimited donations had to fall because it was linked to another provision previously struck down by a Cole County judge.
By summer, however, Blunt already had raised almost $4 million in contributions above the limits and Nixon had taken in more than $1 million over the contribution limits. Other candidates for statewide and legislative races also had taken large donations during that time.
In a follow-up ruling in late August, the Supreme Court left it to the Ethics Commission to determine whether particular candidates must refund that money. But the Supreme Court noted its ruling generally would apply retroactively, unless people could demonstrate they relied on the law in place at the time and that refunding the money now would pose a hardship.
The Ethics Commission said it would give candidates the chance to keep the money if they can prove they relied on the law and that paying refunds would pose a hardship. If any candidate is granted an exception, other candidates in that same classification also would receive one out of fairness, the commission said.
"Make no mistake, contribution limits are not a hardship," Nixon said in a written statement Wednesday. "I have instructed my campaign staff to make preparations to return all over-limit contributions and I encourage other candidates to do the same."
Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he intended to refund contributions or seek a hardship exemption, Blunt was noncommittal.
"I intend to wait and see exactly what the letter says" from the Ethics Commission, Blunt said. "It's not something I'm following very closely -- there's been very confusing decisions from the court and from the Ethics Commission."
The state Republican Party is preparing a lawsuit that could challenge the Ethics Commission decision, partly on allegations that the closed portion of its meeting violated the state's Sunshine Law.
Nixon campaign spokesman Oren Shur declined to say whether Nixon would wait to refund contributions until he could be assured that Blunt would do likewise.
Nixon had urged Blunt to veto the 2006 legislation repealing the contribution limits.
But Blunt signed it, asserting along with the Republican-led Legislature that it would lead to more transparency in campaigns by eliminating the need for big donors to funnel their money in small increments through various political committees.
Once the repeal took effect, Nixon joined Blunt in raising large contributions, though Blunt received more money and a greater number of large checks.
As attorney general, Nixon's office had to defend the law repealing the contribution limits in court -- a situation the Missouri Republican Party claimed posed a conflict because of his previously voiced opposition.
After the Supreme Court struck down the law repealing the contribution limits, Nixon's staff filed a court brief urging it to require candidates to refund excess donations. On Wednesday, he praised the Ethics Commission's decision.
"When Matt Blunt eliminated contribution limits, he cleared the way for lobbyists and corporations to give millions to candidates. This was a clear step in the wrong direction," Nixon said. "I believe that we need to reduce, not increase, the amount of access and influence that lobbyists and big corporate types have on our system."