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Lawyers argue merits of campaign finance rules

Paul Demko//August 20, 2010

Lawyers argue merits of campaign finance rules

Paul Demko//August 20, 2010

Minnesota continues to violate the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting corporations from making political contributions that seek to directly influence campaigns. That’s the gist of the argument made by plaintiffs in a hearing Friday afternoon before U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank.

“Everything hinges on whether this is disclosure or a ban on speech,” said Joe La Rue, an Indiana-based attorney who is representing the plaintiffs. “The law before the court, we believe, is unconstitutional and should be struck.”

The Legislature revamped Minnesota’s campaign finance rules in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case that corporations have a constitutional right to spend money to influence elections. But the lawsuit — filed by a pair of conservative advocacy groups and one local corporation — seeks to have the law thrown out.

Under Minnesota’s statute, corporations can disburse funds directly to influence political campaigns, but the money must be funneled through an independent political organization. There are also disclosure requirements that companies engaging in political activities are required to follow. These limitations, La Rue argued, are a de facto prohibition and therefore in violation of the Citizens United ruling.

But Solicitor General Alan Gilbert, the state’s attorney, argued that Minnesota’s current system is constitutionally kosher and doesn’t present an untoward burden on corporations wishing to engage in political activities. “The bottom line is they’re attempting to gut the disclosure requirements of Minnesota’s law,” Gilbert told the court. “The system is working as the Supreme Court intended.”

The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction that would immediately invalidate the pertinent statute. If granted, it would likely eliminate all disclosure requirements for corporate political contributions in the 2010 election. Frank indicated that he would rule on the motion by September 20.

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