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DFL legislators blast GOP proposal to lift limits on contributions from lobbyists and PACs

State Sen. Jim Carlson
State Sen. Jim Carlson

Last week, two political mailings criticizing DFL Sen. Jim Carlson were sent to voters in the lawmaker’s Eagan district. That was on top of the three mailings sent out opposing Carlson in January, and one put out the weekend before the election last fall.

All of which might be expected for someone in the midst of a re-election fight. But Carlson isn’t. He wasn’t even on the ballot in November, nor is he again until 2016.

Welcome to the new world of campaign spending, where the campaign season never really stops, no political office is too small to be targeted by a flood of cash, and a whole lot of campaign spending isn’t reported to the public.

On Monday morning, DFL legislators joined forces with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to say the problem could get worse if a bill from House Republicans becomes law. The GOP’s state government finance bill proposes to remove the limit on how much total money state candidates can raise from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs). It would also repeal the state’s campaign subsidy program. At the same time, a DFL proposal to require reporting from certain nonprofits — which can skirt campaign reporting laws by not using specific language like “vote for” or “vote against” — has stalled in the House, they said.

“It’s bad enough that we have been stymied in our effort to pass legislation that would expose the secret money in politics,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said. “But to take the next step and to get rid of a system that has served the state very, very well, it’s unacceptable. It’s outrageous.”

Much of the new spending is a result of the landmark 2010 United States Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which gave corporations and labor groups much of the same rights to political speech as individuals have, opening campaigns up to unlimited spending from those groups. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board estimates there was nearly $34 million spent by candidates and PACs in the 2014 election. 

Both sides saw millions of dollars from outside groups poured into campaigns. Dayton fended off a challenge from the right, but House Republicans took control of the state House.

Dayton went as far as to say he will veto the House GOP bill that lifts those fundraising limits. He said in some U.S. House races last fall, Minnesotans saw a “veritable flood of special interest literature, direct mail and the like to distort positions, to try and destroy candidates and to try and buy those elections,” he said. “It’d be a terrible direction for Minnesota.” 

State Rep. Sarah Anderson
State Rep. Sarah Anderson

GOP Rep. Sarah Anderson, of Plymouth, who authored the state government finance bill, said she eliminated the campaign public subsidy program because there are some Democrats who have safe races and take public subsidy but don’t need it. They then donate money to other DFL campaign causes. “I don’t think that’s how the taxpayers intended this program to be used,” she said. 

She said there have also been constitutional questions about putting aggregate limits on campaigns.

The Republicans bill also keeps all disclosure requirements in place, she said, which is important to the public. As for the proposal to crack down on reporting for nonprofit spending groups, Anderson noted that the bill couldn’t get passed last year, when the DFL controlled the Legislature.

Among other things, the bill would lump all “electioneering communication” 30 days before the August primary and 60 days before the general election into state disclosure law. But Minnesotans Citizens Concerned for Life and the National Rifle Association sent emails opposing the measure, and the measure stalled in the DFL-controlled House. 

“It’s very clear that there is broad bipartisan opposition to that bill,” she said. “They couldn’t get it passed when they controlled government.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/04/2015 - 04:22 pm.

    One of the SCOTUS’ worst rulings.

    Our one voter one vote system has been turned into a one voter two votes, for some. What speaks louder to a politician than money? Answer, nothing. Some with deep pockets provide politicians with large sums of money and you can bet they expect something in return for it. Then the deep pockets get to vote again just as you and I do. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. If you look at nearly any historical chart about the financial health of America the country’s decline started in the 80’s. Remember the old Republican mantra that started in the 80’s,”In the Tradition of Ronald Reagan”. You don’t hear that anymore because it has been proven over time that he was wrong and we are still paying for his mistakes. What did Reagan do for the good of all the people, answer, nothing. Elections are not about ideas, they are strictly about negative ads, platitudes, and political claptrap. Politicians are running 24/7, 365 days a year, not based on their accomplishments, because many have none, but based on what their puppeteers want them to be saying and doing. Example, Scott Walker got pranked when he thought he was talking to one of the Koch brothers and Walker revealed his corrupt side. We are at gridlock. Two weeks before elections you hear how all the politicians are working across the aisle. If that were the case we wouldn’t be in gridlock. Companies are not people, as the Republican claim. Companies are made up of people who get to cast their vote as you and I do. When politician have to apologize to radio shock jocks like Limbaugh or Hannity it is a clear sign the politicians are not working for the good of all. On the flip side the electorate does a horrible job paying attention. Why? Because we get, as the politicians want it, worn down from all the nonsense that goes on at all levels. Pick your own story about politicians and it won’t be good if it is the truth. The Supreme Court is an activist court that is working against the good of the majority of the people. What did the Citizens United ruling do for the good of all the people, answer, nothing. The Citizen’s United ruling is one of its worst rulings and is a prime example why the Supreme Court should not be a lifetime assignment. We are broken!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/05/2015 - 01:29 am.

      “Guilty of dishonest practices; lacking integrity; crooked”

      To sight just one example, five Catholic guys (that may or may not have been Alter Boys), decide that, “according the Constitution of the United States of America,” Hobby Lobby need not pay Insurance Companies that part of their employee’s Health Insurance Premium that pays for contraception IF it conflicts with Hobby Lobby’s “religious beliefs.”

      Hobby Lobby’s owners claim to be devout Christians. As I understand things, Christian beliefs are based on, or rooted in, the Bible. Besides not knowing of any “Christian Faith” besides Catholicism that classifies the use of contraceptives as a “sin,” I have no idea whatsoever as to WHERE in the Bible it says, “Thou shalt not use contraceptives” (someone please enlighten me).

      Yet there the Supreme Court of the United States of America is saying the Constitution of the United States of America SOMEHOW affirms that and frees any business owner in America that claims to have that “Christian belief” from having to pay for anything having to do with contraception, thereby saving a bunch of money while remaining free to live pure, unencumbered by government violation of the “Free Speech” or “Church and State” provisions in the Constitution.

      And by the way, even though the Supreme Court ripped the case and decision away from the Florida Supreme Court, George Bush Jr really DID win the 2000 election, it’s okay to own and carry as many guns as you can get onya and shoot people anywhere if you “fear for your life” (even if you’re certifiably paranoid), dollars are speech, corporations are people, and we’ll see if gay marriage and Obamacare insurance premium subsidies are constitutional real soon too.

      “Corrupt | Define Corrupt at

      “adjective 1. guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked: a corrupt judge.”

      Could it be?

  2. Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/05/2015 - 12:32 am.

    Which problem?

    “…the problem could get worse if a bill from House Republicans becomes law.”

    I can tell from the article that the reference is related to campaign finances (“Corporations are people too,” except when it comes to personal responsibility, criminal charges, general liability cases, etc.), but the 2015 House reality is, there is NO problem that couldn’t get worse if this year’s fiscally irresponsible and incompetently constructed raft of House bills become law.

    The Governor said, a long time ago, that Republicans are living in La La Land and, a couple weeks ago, that he was “encouraging Republicans to focus on reality.”

    And because that sums things up well enough for me, I have written to my DFL representatives, including the Governor, to let them know I would be 100% supportive of allowing Republicans to drive themselves straight into the wall of Government Shutdown Two-Point-Oh My Goodness, What Happened!?” if that’s what it takes to fend off this year’s slate of idiotic House proposals.

    “The ‘pain’ of a government shutdown doesn’t last nearly as long, and costs a whole lot less, than the alternatives Republicans are proposing,” I told them.

    Naturally, I encourage every “representational form of government” enthusiast to do the same.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/05/2015 - 06:41 am.

    Our Republican Friends Seem Determined

    to clear away anything that might get in the way,…

    of each and every one of them auctioning themselves off to the highest (in terms of campaign contributions) bidder,…

    and, rather than hanging their heads in shame over their rank desire to BE corrupted by money,…

    they think this would be a wonderful thing?

    What has happened to these people to so corrupt their morals,…

    that they can’t see the danger to themselves and our state if they take this action?

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/05/2015 - 07:43 am.


    “…But Minnesotans Citizens Concerned for Life and the National Rifle Association sent emails opposing the measure, and the measure stalled in the DFL-controlled House.

    ‘It’s very clear that there is broad bipartisan opposition to that bill,’ she said. ‘They couldn’t get it passed when they controlled government.’”

    Hmmm… A pair of single-issue lobbying groups send emails (not even “in-person” visits!!) and it’s construed as “broad bipartisan opposition.” Methinks Ms. Anderson wouldn’t recognize something genuinely bipartisan if it hit her in the forehead.

    I don’t know Jim Carlson, and have never met him, but the fact that someone, somewhere has both the temerity and the financial muscle to send all those mailings to criticize a pretty non-controversial legislator who won’t be up for reelection for another 18 months is a nice illustration of low disconnected from reality the SCOTUS reasoning in Citizens United actually is. Money is, as they say, “the mother’s milk of politics,” and it’s not realistic to try to insist that it not be involved in political campaigns, but at the very least it ought to be identifiable.

    If we’re going to maintain the pretense that the political system we have is a form of democracy, every dollar contributed to a campaign, candidate or party ought to be identified as to its source. Without that identification, we have a kind of secret oligarchy rather than democracy – and that’s putting the best possible face on it. Without disclosure, there’s no way to know who, or what, is financing a particular campaign. That’s pretty much the antithesis of democracy.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/05/2015 - 09:17 am.

    The faux outrage is amusing

    There’s not a democrat politician in this state who would be in office without the generous financial support of public employee unions, who’s source of income, I would add, comes from my pocket along with others who would disagree with their every principle if they had any.

    And let’s not forget the governor’s own wealthy relatives who’ve generously funded his political campaigns in their noble attempts to find him gainful employment.

    Republican belief in unlimited campaign money is at least based on the constitutional principle of free speech. The democrats opposition is based on petty envy even though it’s their side who benefits the most.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/05/2015 - 01:16 pm.

      No Dennis

      Your support for unlimited sums of cash donated towards your candidates comes from the realization that without it, your deeply unpopular ideology would result in the nearly complete marginalization of conservatism as a political force within a couple of generations. You cannot win if you allow the truth of your convictions to remain undistorted in the public sphere.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/06/2015 - 12:09 am.

        A contemporary political haiku if there ever was one

        My only “complaint” would be, “Do we really have to wait two more generations?”

        Given recent history, it’s understandable that it would be tough to think it could happen any sooner, but please do what you can to ward off the pessimism. Maybe have an extra cup of coffee tomorrow morning and maybe spend a few minutes thinking about how it might be possible for it to happen sooner.

        But, as they say, “In any case, well said.”

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