- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some Missouri senators made pitches on Friday to eradicate so-called dark money flowing from anonymous donors to campaigning nonprofits - measures that opponents said would be violations of free speech rights.

The discussion came more than a week after a nonprofit called A New Missouri, Inc. run by the campaign staff of Gov. Eric Greitens launched attack ads on Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf.

The senator later promised that the senate would not move forward with bills except the budget until the “dark money ban” was put to a vote, but the underlying bill and several amendments were never brought to a vote Friday.

The delay was, in part, due to opposition from Republican Sen. Bob Onder and others who said more disclosure would put people in danger of retribution for their political opinions.

The underlying bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Kehoe would’ve put a $40 a day cap on lobbyist expenditures for politicians and prohibited lobbyist gifts such as concert tickets.

An amendment to that bill proposed by Schaaf would’ve required groups making independent political expenditures to disclose the names of people who have donated more than $5,000 over two years. He said the proposal would allow people like him who were attacked by faceless organizations to call out their accusers and encourage transparency.

But Onder said Schaaf’s proposal went too far and would inhibit people’s willingness to express their opinions.

“My concern is that it’s a very confusing tangle of regulations that will have a free speech ‘chilling effect’ in the state of Missouri,” Onder said.

Schaaf was supported by Sen. Bob Dixon, who gave an emotional speech calling on the nonprofit to stop interfering with the Senate. He quoted former President Ronald Reagan’s fabled 11th commandment - “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

“I don’t even know where this office is located, this (nonprofit), but every office has trash cans,” Dixon said. “I bet that’s where we’d find Ronald Reagan’s 11th amendment - in the trash heap.”

Dixon’s speech was inspired, in part, from The Springfield News-Leader’s report (https://sgfnow.co/2qB2NFp) that said A New Missouri Inc. had been planning to release attacks on five more Senators. None of those advertisements are currently online.

Greitens campaigned on a platform of ethics reform, repeatedly calling out “lobbyists and special interests” for ruining government. The governor has pushed a lobbyist gift ban, and has also advocated for putting restrictions on when former lawmakers can become lobbyists.

But Sen. Ryan Silvey called for more transparency in political nonprofits such as A New Missouri Inc.

“We’re not trying to limit what you can say or trying to keep people from criticizing us,” he said. “No, criticize away. But own it.”

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