Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Silently destroying Minnesota’s campaign financing reforms

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Year after year, politicians and the courts have been steadily turning our democracy over to the highest bidders, turning our elections into auctions.

What if Republicans repealed Minnesota’s campaign finance reforms and nobody knew about it? Unfortunately, that is happening right now.

Sen. John Marty

Both the Minnesota House and Senate recently passed legislation to repeal the heart of Minnesota’s campaign finance reform laws. These were major reforms adopted on a bipartisan basis 40 years ago in the wake of the Watergate scandal and were strengthened after an ethics scandal in the early 1990s. 

Despite widespread disgust at the corruption of our democracy from powerful special interests and deep frustration at the Citizens’ United ruling, which allowed more big money into politics, there has been no public outcry about this effort to repeal Minnesota’s reforms, even though this will make the situation worse.

Why the lack of outcry? Simply put, the public doesn’t know about it. I have not seen a single news report about the issue, perhaps because the repeal is buried in the large budget bill that funds state agencies. It takes just four lines hidden in a lengthy 56-page bill to destroy four decades of campaign financing reform.

The law being repealed established campaign spending limits for candidates. Those spending limits are tied to public financing to help give new candidates and those without a lot of money a chance to compete without relying on wealthy interests to fund their campaigns.

Virtually all candidates for the Minnesota Legislature and constitutional offices currently abide by the spending limits. If this repeal is signed into law, in 2018 there won’t be any restriction on how much a candidate can spend.

People who care about the future of our democracy should be outraged. Year after year, politicians and the courts have been steadily turning our democracy over to the highest bidders, turning our elections into auctions. Well-funded interests can win enough close races to determine who controls government.

As a candidate who has rejected all PAC and lobbyist money, I am concerned that candidates who reject special interest money will have no chance of winning, and that legislators will become even more beholden to the interests of the big donors who fund their campaigns.

Major changes in state policy such as this should not be buried in budget bills. Senate File 605, the State Government Appropriations Bill that contains the repeal of the campaign finance reforms, is in conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language. The one conferee fighting to block it is Sen. Carolyn Laine, the only DFL member of the committee. Unless the Republican conference committee members have a change of heart, or unless the governor vetoes the bill, Minnesota’s campaign finance reforms will be gone.

If we believe that our state should be governed by the will of the voters, not the desires of wealthy donors and powerful interests, we need to speak out now. For the sake of our democracy, we need the legislature to remove the repeal language or for Gov. Mark Dayton to veto the bill.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. He first published this article in his newsletter, “To the Point!” which is published by the Apple Pie Alliance.

Want to add your voice?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/02/2017 - 09:44 am.

    Simply put

    I share the outrage, though outrage has significant limitations unless it’s followed by concrete action. Contact your legislators, especially State Senators. Repealing those decades-old reforms will work to the detriment of both DFL and GOP candidates who don’t have access to a slush fund or sugar daddy, and more importantly, to the detriment of Minnesota as a whole. Both liberals and conservatives should protest this move toward plutocracy.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/02/2017 - 10:07 am.

    An invitation to ANYONE in the GOP

    …to tell us all here – PUBLICLY – how repeal of the campaign finance reforms benefits the people of MN.

    If none of you have anything to say in defense, that would pretty clearly indicate why you want to keep it quiet: namely, that it’s NOT in the public interest !!

  3. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 05/02/2017 - 10:09 am.

    What is to be done

    So the governor would have to veto the entire 56-page bill (which funds state agencies) to get rid of this, if Republicans in the conference committee don’t remove it, right? Who are the members on teh conference committee, other than Sen. Laine? What areas do they represent?

    We need some mobilizing information here.

  4. Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/02/2017 - 12:49 pm.

    “Republican” becoming synonymous with “ALEC”

    ALEC stands for the “American Legislative Exchange Council”

    “Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights.”

    The “preemption bill,” for example, is an ALEC (“model legislation”) bill. That bill, if signed into law by Mark Dayton, would take away the right of the people who live in Minneapolis to have any say in any labor-related issues impacting their community.

    Representative Pat Garofalo is that bill’s author.

    Pat Garofalo is also the chairperson of the House Jobs and Affordable Energy committee.

    Pat Garofalo is also ALEC’s MN House of Representative’s State Chairperson.

    What do ALEC State Chairs do? Among other things:

    “Each ALEC State Chairman shall appoint a Private Sector State Chairman to serve concurrently with the State Chairman . . . State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, WORKING TO INSURE INTRODUCTION OF MODEL LEGISLATION, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative ‘scholarship’ funds.”

    Think about that for a minute . . . The chairperson of the House Jobs and Energy committee is ALSO the State Chair of an organization comprised of corporations using their resources to organize, convince and direct state legislators to rewrite state laws that govern (grant or take away) the rights of a state’s citizens.

    Article 4, Section 5 of the MN Constitution says:

    “Restriction on holding office: No senator or representative shall hold any other office under the authority of the United States or the state of Minnesota, except that of postmaster or of notary public. If elected or appointed to another office, a legislator may resign from the legislature by tendering his resignation to the governor.”

    That isn’t to say it’s unconstitutional for Pat Garofalo to serve as ALEC’s State Chair in the House (“ALEC State Chair” is not an office that is under the authority of the US or state of MN) but it DOES convey a related, important point having to do with what could be a massive conflict of interest that COULD be pitting the interests and rights of global corporations against those of the citizen’s of Minnesota via laws as presented by the chairperson of the Jobs and Affordable Energy committee.

    Mary Kiffmeyer is the author of the bill John Marty is addressing in this article.

    Mary Kiffmeyer is the Chairperson of the State Government Finance and Policy and Elections committee. She also serves on the Senate committees that deal with Health and Human Services Finance and Policy; Human Services Reform Finance and Policy; and Transportation Finance and Policy.

    Mary Kiffmeyer also serves as ALEC’s State Chairperson in the MN Senate.

    In addition to Mary Kiffmeyer, the Senate conferees on the conference committee are:

    Bruce Anderson:

    Mark Koran:

    Dan Hall:

    Carolyn Laine:

    House conferees:

    Sarah Anderson:

    Tim O’Driscoll:

    Bob Dettmer:

    Kelly Fenton:

    Jim Nash:

    Contact information for all of the conferees is listed on their web pages.

    The options for contacting the Governor are here:

    P.S: Ray Schoch is right when he says, “Both liberals and conservatives should protest this move toward plutocracy.” No matter where you stand politically, this kind of thing is not in your interest, your kid’s, family’s or any other Minnesotans’ interest.

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/03/2017 - 06:12 am.

    Just Remember

    The GOP is keeping their crazy in check. If they win the 2018 elections, and they already have the Senate until 2020, the gloves will come off. Voter suppression. Tax cuts for the wealthiest. All of the ALEC agenda that has hit WI and Kansas and other states.

    So this is mild compared to what they want to do.

Leave a Reply