Former Missouri lawmaker fighting campaign violation costs
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former state lawmaker’s attorney argued to Missouri Supreme Court judges Tuesday that the former candidate shouldn’t have to pay $230,000 for alleged campaign finance violations.
Former St. Louis Democratic Sen. Robin Wright-Jones’ attorney, Bernard Edwards, Jr., told Supreme Court judges during arguments that the charges amount to an excessive fine by the Missouri Ethics Commission, which is responsible for checking compliance with campaign finance laws. He also said the complaint against her ultimately cost her the 2012 election.
An attorney for the commission said the fee issued was reasonable based on the amount of donations and spending Wright-Jones failed to timely report. A 2013 commission decision said that Wright-Jones failed to accurately report a couple hundred thousand dollars of expenditures and contributions by state deadlines, received a double reimbursement for vehicle mileage from both the state and her campaign fund, and made more cash expenditures than allowed by law.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer said in court that reporting issues meant some campaign money “wasn’t disclosed in time for voters to take it into consideration” for the 2012 election.
An independent administrative panel later said Wright-Jones only had to pay 10 percent of that cost as long as she did so quickly, filed any additional campaign reports and didn’t violate any other campaign finance laws for two years.
But her attorney told judges that the Missouri Constitution bans the commission from giving out fines as punishment for violating commission-created rules, and Edwards said the U.S. Constitution “prohibits fines that are unreasonable and fines that would chill free speech under the First Amendment.”
Edwards argued the Missouri Ethics Commission should have charged the former lawmaker at most $1,000 per violation.
Some judges appeared skeptical. Judge Laura Denvir Stith said state law allows for a $1,000 fee or fees as much as double the amount of the money involved in the violation.
Attorney General’s Office lawyer Joshua Divine, who represented the commission, said a $1,000-per-violation fee would have meant an even higher fee of closer to $800,000.
Supreme Court judges did not indicate when they might rule.