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Citizen Voices: Ethics Commission attack on citizen activism

Missouri First describes their organization as “a think tank devoted to evaluating and producing public policy ideas with an emphasis on individual liberty, free market capitalism, constitutionally limited government, and other principles that are consistent with the concept of an American constitutional republic.” This submission is from the Director of Missouri First, Ron Calzone. For more information on our Opinion Section please click HERE.

It’s been over 3 ½ months since the Missouri Ethics Commission issued a “consent order” declaring that I violated state law when I exercised my right to free speech without registering as a lobbyist and filling out regular reports. (The background story is detailed at http://www.mofirst.org/lawsuits/2015-Ethics-Complaint/2015-Ethics-Complaint.php.)

Since the September order, my First Amendment legal team has filed an appeal to the Administrative Hearing Commission, and just last Friday they filed a motion for a Judgment on the Pleadings.

The outcome of this case could affect scores of average citizen activists who don’t want to leave the making of the laws they and their families must live under up to politicians and professional lobbyists.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience, including a deeper understanding of how agencies tasked with enforcing the law view themselves as above the law. In this case, the Ethics Commission, of all agencies, has been clearly ignoring the laws that dictate their procedures and conduct.

If you’re into reading long legal briefs, I think you will gain a lot of insight into this problem by reading my lawyers’ appeal petition and also their motion for a judgment on the pleadings. The appeal lists nine ways the Ethics Commission ignored statutory limits on their power, violated my constitutional rights, or twisted the meaning of statutes and definitions of words beyond reasonableness.

Some of this is not merely poor judgment on the Commission’s part – some of it is unethical and illegal behavior.

That should be of particular concern now, since ethics reform bills will get priority treatment in the 2016 legislative session. Citizen activists and the public in general, need to keep a watchful eye on all the ethics bills.

Again, I think it would be worthwhile to invest twenty or 30 minutes to read the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, but you can at least get the flavor of the document from its conclusion:

There is no need for these proceedings to go any further. The Ethics Commission’s finding of probable cause was plainly erroneous. The initial complaint against Mr. Calzone was likely politically motivated, was investigated despite being filed by a non-natural person, and probable cause was found based upon a clearly incorrect reading of the relevant statute and a factual record built upon repeated abuses of process and procedure. Particularly in light of the dubious constitutionality of the MEC’s interpretation of the underlying statute, this body ought to grant Mr. Calzone’s motion for judgment on the pleadings”

Like the Ethics Commission, the Administrative Hearing Commission, the next step in the appeals process, is not a real court of law. If they also rule against the rule of law, due process, and the freedom of speech, we will be appealing to a real court with real judges who will listen to constitutional arguments.

Hopefully, the Administrative Hearing Commission will render a judgment on the pleadings in our favor, but if they don’t they will, instead, conduct the appeals hearing on February 3rd.

Go to http://www.mofirst.org/lawsuits/2015-Ethics-Complaint/2015-Ethics-Complaint.php for links to all the legal documents and background details about this landmark case.

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