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Minnesota’s campaign law changes fail to enlighten

Courtesy of MN House Public Information Services
Campaign finance law is murky enough and the Legislature did little to shed more light.

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

A campaign finance bill that had bipartisan opposition was, nonetheless, approved by the Minnesota Legislature, which shows that some things that are dear to campaigners can cross party lines. In this case it was getting more money to spend for elections.

The bill allows candidates to raise and spend more money which some see as the answer to independent groups who have unlimited resources. The spending amounts, which nearly doubled in all cases, were changed from annual to two-year cycle segments. Contributions increased too with donations jumping from $2,000 in gubernatorial races to $4,000 in the election segment and from $500 to $2,000 in non-election years. House and Senate increases were the same going from $500 to $1,000.

The conference committee rejected a provision in the bill that required more disclosure from independent groups. Some of the language dealt with issues ads — those that praise or criticize a candidate’s stance on issues without telling people how to vote. Presently such groups don’t have to disclose who is paying for the ad.

Also rejected was the ability to collect donor information from nonprofit corporations spending independently on candidates or ballot initiatives. Presently no disclosure is needed until the group uses $1,000 or more for political purposes.

The Coalition of Minnesota Businesses is among the groups that sent fliers during last year’s election that didn’t advocate for one candidate over another, but spoke favorably of a candidate’s record. Under the proposed rules, those types of ads could have required more disclosure.

Critics of the new rule said it would hinder free speech. Actually, not having to disclose who is saying something leads to irresponsible speech of which you can find ample evidence by looking at online bulletin boards.

And then there’s the exception to the gift ban that allows lobbyists to pay for a legislator to attend a reception only if all 201 legislators are invited. “There’s no reason why we can’t socialize without somebody else paying our way. And frankly, under the bill, the only groups that can do this are the ones with the money to be able to invite all members of the Legislature,” said Sen. John Marty, who is opposed to the changes.

Marty, DFL-Roseville, told Politics in Minnesota that “every part of this is simply weakening our laws on this and it’s not even increasing disclosure …”

Marty and Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, denounced the portion of the bill that increased the threshold — from $100 to $200 —legislators can receive without identifying the donor.

Campaign finance law is murky enough and the Legislature did little to shed more light.

Reprinted with permission.

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