JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Ethics Commission is threatening legal action against the Missouri Republican Party if it does not meet a deadline to pay nearly $400,000 in fines.
Ethics commissioners voted Friday to give the GOP and several of its candidates 45 days to pay the fines before referring their cases to Attorney General Jay Nixon.
The fines stem from the 1998 elections, during which the Ethics Commission says the party exceeded the state's limits on contributions to several of its candidates.
The Republican Party unsuccessfully challenged the limits in federal court and lost and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.
Enforcement of the fines and contribution limits had been on hold while the lawsuit was pending. But the Ethics Commission received a memo Feb. 7 from Nixon's office stating that there no longer were any court orders prohibiting enforcement.
Based on that advice, the commission decided to proceed with collection notices against the GOP and its candidates.
According to a draft document provided Thursday to Republicans, the commission is seeking fines of $197,225 against the state Republican Party; $126,750 against state auditor candidate Charles Pierce; $63,875 against state Senate candidate Eric Zahnd; and $6,600 against state Rep. Michael Reid of Hazelwood.
The Republican Party contends that individual contribution limits were not in effect during the 1998 election cycle and therefore the political party limits also should have been null.
But ethics commissioners said the law requires them to carry through with fines against the Republicans.
"We don't have the choice to say whether we can or cannot impose in this particular situation," said commissioner Elaine Spielbusch, a Democrat from Kansas City.