Missouri Ethics Commission: House leaders can keep over-limit donations

Saturday, March 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Ethics Commission is allowing nine lawmakers and two mayoral candidates to keep some campaign donations that exceed state limits but were collected while there was no cap on fundraising.

The state Supreme Court last summer tossed out a law that repealed the fundraising caps and indicated that it should apply to donations received after the law was passed but before the court ruled it unconstitutional.

But the ethics commission was allowed to let candidates keep over-limit donations if the politicians could show they relied on the law in place while raising the money and that refunding the donations would pose a hardship.

The ethics commission granted 11 hardships at its meeting March 13 but didn't publicly announce them until this week

In all, the commission is letting the 11 politicians keep more than $205,000 in over-limit donations. And if lawmakers approve new legislation to remove the fundraising limits, another $121,000 won't have to be returned.

A bill to lift the limits and install new reporting requirements has already cleared the Senate.

Among those granted a hardship are four House leaders: Rep. Ron Richard, who will be the next speaker if Republicans keep control of the House; Majority Leader Steven Tilley; Budget Committee chairman Allen Icet; and Majority Whip Brian Nieves.

None of the major statewide candidates have sought a hardship from the commission.

Richard, R-Joplin, doesn't have to return $1,275, must refund $300 and will have to return about $83,000 if the lawmakers don't repeal the fundraising limits this session.

Tilley, R-Perryville, doesn't have to return more than $31,000.

Icet, R-Wildwood, doesn't have to refund $1,275 but will have to repay $34,000 if the limits aren't repealed.

And Nieves, R-Washington doesn't have to return $1,600.

But Sen. Tom Dempsey, the former House majority leader, received the biggest pardon. He must return $2,000 but doesn't have to repay $117,400. Dempsey, R-St. Charles, has said earlier that he spent much of the money raised during unlimited donations while campaigning for a Sept. 4 special election.

The commission's interim executive director, Stacey Heislen, declined to comment Friday about any outstanding hardship appeals but said the 11 announced this week accounted for the majority.

According to court documents filed during a lawsuit about whether the hardship hearings should be open meetings, there are 160 candidates who accepted over-limit donations from Jan. 1, 2007 through July 19, 2007.

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