Voters statewide in Missouri will have seven ballot measure to consider as well as a choice between Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Josh Hawley in the high-profile U.S. Senate race.
One of the ballot measure’s would attempt to alter the flow of money in politics and change the way voting districts are drawn up. Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri to reflect the name of the advocacy organization sponsoring it, would do several things if passed by voters.
It would require Missouri legislative records to be open and it would lower campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates. It would also require Missouri lawmakers to wait two years before becoming lobbyists and would eliminate lobbyist gifts of more than $5 to lawmakers.
Far and away the most contentious and publicly contested component in Amendment 1 is its overhaul of the way voting districts are drawn up. Lawmakers and particularly Republicans across the country have been accused of extreme gerrymandering of districts to gain an advantage in elections.
A districting map Republican drew up in Wisconsin gave the party 60 of the 99 seats in the state Assembly despite winning only 48.6% of the vote in 2012. In 2014 Republicans won 63 seats with only 52% of the state-wide vote. The U.S. Supreme Court surprised many observers when it declined to take a case over gerrymandering in Wisconsin in June.
Also, in June, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s redrawing of four North Carolina state legislative districts in a racial gerrymandering case that challenged maps drawn by Republicans earlier in the decade.
Opponents of Clean Missouri claim it goes so far in trying to establish fairness and competitiveness that the districts would take on absurd shapes to include equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Clean Missouri spokesperson Benjamin Singer claims opponents are purposely misrepresenting what the measure would do, noting that it calls for contiguous districts that follow local guidelines while not attempting to break up partisan strongholds. “We’re still going to have districts, some that lean Republican in southwest Missouri, some that lean Democrat in the city of St. Louis because that’s the way Missouri is,” said Singer.
Missouri currently redraws districts, as required every decade after the U.S. Census determines the population breakdown, by using bipartisan legislative commissions. Any redistricting plan must win the support of 70 percent of the House and Senate redistricting commissions. In the event of a disagreement, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints a special panel of six appellate court judges to draw the district lines.
Even though the process appears to be bipartisan, there’s been political wrangling on both sides of the aisle. With Republicans controlling a supermajority in the legislature, some Democrats say redistricting has been rigged to favor Republicans. Many Republicans now claim the Clean Missouri ballot measure is aimed at gaming the system in favor of Democrats. Former Republican U.S. Senator Jim Talent has accused Clean Missouri of trying to change the “non-partisan redistricting process in favor of one that requires gerrymandering.”
Singer says the proposal is trying to change a system where safe Republicans and Democrats redraw districts to further protect their own interests. “It’s benefitting political insiders,” said Singer. “And the result that we see is that 90% of races in the state of Missouri for the state legislature are not competitive.”
The Clean Missouri redistricting plan calls for the state legislature to be replaced by a non-partisan “state demographer” who would determine voting districts.
A stumbling block for some critics of the proposal is the heavy involvement of the state auditor. Under the plan, the auditor develops criteria to determine qualifications for applicants to be the demographer. The auditor then selects at least three applicants that meet those qualifications and submits them to the majority and minority leader of the state Senate. The leaders would have to agree on a choice for the position, otherwise, the auditor would conduct a lottery to determine the demographer.
Some Republicans think Clean Missouri chose the auditor to play a key role because the seat is currently held by a Democrat, Nicole Galloway. Spokesperson Singer said the state auditor was chosen because the position requires bipartisanship and whoever holds the seat is judged on the fairness of their performance. “Their success and their political future is judged by how fair were they while they were the state auditor,” said Singer.
Other critics of the Clean Missouri plan have questioned the wisdom of having one person, the demographer, formulate the voting districts and have suggested the position could be filled by someone with a bias toward one of the parties.
Political consultant Christopher Arps, who opposes the measure, told Missourinet affiliate KSSZ-FM in Columbia that Democrats are using the demographer as a ploy to exert influence to the redistricting process, although he didn’t specify how it would be done. “This is an initiative by Democrats who are in a super minority in government here in Missouri that they’re trying to claw back and get power by messing with these legislative districts through this initiative,” said Arps.
If that’s the case, the demographer must still submit his or her work to a citizen commission for approval. The citizen commission is composed of residents selected by committees representing both parties from each congressional district.
Singer points out that regardless of whether the demographer or the citizen commission draws up the districts, the measure calls for strict conformity to fairness standards. “They have to follow the new constitutional criteria that enforce compactness, competitiveness, fairness and protecting minority representation,” Singer said.
The other components of the Clean Missouri ballot measure set campaign finance rules and other restrictions on state senators and representatives along with their staffs.
It prohibits lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office. It also bars state Senate and House office holders as well as legislative staff members from receiving lobbyist gifts in excess of $5.00.
It further forbids the general assembly from passing a law that would authorize unlimited campaign contributions and changes donation limits to candidates running for the state legislature. In November 2016, voters overwhelmingly passed a measure limiting individual contributions at $2,600 to a candidate per election.
Amendment 1 would further limit individual contributions to candidates or candidate committees to $2,500 for Senate seats and $2,000 for House seats.
Some news reporting about Clean Missouri has noted that it’s an initiative to bring transparency to government, but that the organization itself is a 501 (c)(4), of which many don’t report donors. As a 501(c)(4) supporting a ballot initiative in Missouri, Clean Missouri is required to report its donations to the Missouri Ethics Commission. Singer said the organization has reported all of its 28,000 donations that he says “average less than $100 each.”
Clean Missouri has received major donations from other 501 (c)(4)’s, including the Action Now Initiative. Action Now is an advocacy organization started by billionaires John and Laura Arnold. The group works in conjunction with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to promote policy changes to state pensions, education, and anti-obesity measures.
Clean Missouri spokesperson Singer says Action Missouri is different than dark money organizations that don’t disclose their identities or their priorities. “Anyone can google it and see who they are and what they’re all about,” Singer said. “No secrecy there.” Singer also noted that Clean Missouri is registered as a 501 (c)(4) under a federal law requiring it to do so as an advocacy organization.
The Amendment 1 Initiative has also received backing from left-leaning groups, including Billionaire George Soros. Soros’ Washington based lobbying firm donated $300,000 to a St. Louis based political committee in January. That committee, MOVE Ballot Fund, then donated $250,000 to Clean Missouri three days later. The move was criticized by Republican operatives at the time.
Clean Missouri further has the backing of a GOP coalition which includes former U.S. Senator John Danforth as well as state Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, State Representative Nick Marshall of Parkville, and former State Senators’ Bob Johnson of Lee’s Summit and Jim Lembke of Mehlville.
But Republicans have largely rallied in opposition to the measure. Its fate was in question after a lawsuit was filed against it. The plaintiffs’ case was argued by Edward Greim, who is the law partner of Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
A Republican Cole County Judge, Daniel Green, ruled that the ballot measure contained at least two different subjects and was invalid, knocking it off the November ballot. An appellate court in Kansas City reversed that decision, saying that initiative petitions such as Clean Missouri must be read “liberally and non-restrictively.”
Then the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning the appellate court’s ruling kept Amendment 1 on the ballot.