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State’s new campaign finance law creates headache for St. Louis mayoral candidates

St. Louis City Hall
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis City Hall

Several St. Louis mayoral candidates scrambled Monday after they discovered tens of thousands of donations from corporations and unions are barred under the new campaign finance law that Missouri voters approved in November.

Many of Amendment 2’s key provisions, including campaign donation limits, apply only to statewide and legislative candidates. But the ban on donations from corporations and unions affects candidates across the board, according to an opinion issued late last week by the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The mayoral primary is in about three weeks, which means the candidates have to scrutinize their donations at a time when they would otherwise be spending the money on advertising.

St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewsoncampaign is trying to replace corporate donations with personal contributions from executives, which are not restricted.

Krewson spokesman Ed Rhode said about $30,000 appears to have been affected. That’s only a small portion of the roughly $700,000 that she has raised.

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Less than $1,000 of donations to City Treasurer Tishaura Jones are affected, consultant Richard Callow said.

"I am certain that no local campaign in Missouri has any idea how the law or the advisory opinion applies to them or their donors,” Callow said. “It looks like our campaign will have to return at least two $250 contributions received since Dec. 8, but before the advisory opinion was issued."

Other mayoral campaigns could not be reached Monday afternoon, but their campaign reports indicated that several have collected corporate donations.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield is representing some companies who are challenging some of Amendment 2’s provisions. He said the Ethics Commission’s opinion only affects donations from businesses that pay their taxes as corporations, but that many companies use other IRS provisions, so their campaign donations would not be affected.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a Democrat, reported last week that he had received $40,000 dollars from B & C Southwest Properties, LLC. Hatfield said that donation is likely legal, since LLCsusually file their taxes as partnerships, not corporations.

The latest controversy is among several surrounding Amendment 2, parts of which are being challenged in state court.

EthicsCommission executive director James Klahr agrees with Hatfield's interpretation of how the agency will treat LLC donations. But to ease candidates' concerns, Klahr said Tuesday, the commission won't require campaigns to return any such donations received before Friday's opinion.

Klahr also noted that there's a clear way for corporations and unions to get around the donation ban: Form political action committees, which can give directly to candidates. PACs aren't affected by Amendment 2.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.