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Minnesota Chamber gets taken to task for campaign finance lawsuit

Charley Shaw//February 17, 2010//

Minnesota Chamber gets taken to task for campaign finance lawsuit

Charley Shaw//February 17, 2010//

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Rep. Ryan Winkler

Common Cause and DFL legislators today lashed out at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for filing a lawsuit that strikes down certain state campaign finance laws.

The Chamber’s lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, seeks to get rid of laws governing corporate spending to influence elections that were recently found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, the Supreme Court decided in the so-called Citizens United case that corporations can’t be barred from spending money out of their treasuries to advocate for or against political candidates. The 5-4 ruling, however, didn’t lift the ban on corporations giving directly candidate campaigns.

The Chamber’s lawsuit asks the court to strike down Minnesota’s law that bans corporations from making independent expenditures such as issue advertisements during campaign season.

The Chamber’s lawsuit also includes Minnesota Statutes Chapter 211B.15, subdivision 2, which prohibits corporations from making contributions “directly or indirectly” to candidates.

By including subdivision 2 in the lawsuit, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the Chamber is moving to change laws so that companies can make contributions directly to candidates.

“If they’re successful, corporations could give directly to candidates,” Winkler said.

Mike Franklin, a lobbyist and director of the Chamber’s political action committee, disagrees. He said the lawsuit doesn’t go farther than the court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. Franklin said the Chamber is looking for clarity about what “indirectly” means.

“That’s not true. They either haven’t read [the Chamber’s case], don’t understand it or something else,” said Franklin of Winkler’s contention.

Franklin said the Chamber filed the lawsuit because they don’t want businesses to get taken to court in Minnesota for engaging in political activity that was legalized in the Citizens United ruling.

Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said he’s disappointed the Chamber is going to court to settle the Citizens United matter.

“We are disappointed by the Minnesota Chamber’s decision to file a lawsuit instead of working towards a legislative remedy that will make these contributions transparent,” Dean said in a news release. “Their effort to allow for unlimited corporate contributions into the political system will make a bad situation even worse.”

Winkler has proposed legislation that reacts to Citizens United by requiring more disclosure of corporations’ political contributions.

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