Campaign finance legislation that proposes to increase fundraising limits for candidates has passed to the House and Senate floors.
The bills, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, and Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, increase state limits on the contributions that candidates can receive and the amount of money they can spend. On Monday morning, Rest’s bill passed the Senate Finance Committee and Winkler’s bill passed the Ways and Means Committee.
The bills contain revised contribution limits for constitutional officers, legislators and judges. Gubernatorial candidates would be limited to $6,000 in an election cycle from an individual or group. That would be an increase from current law limits of $2,000 in an election year and $500 in other years. The rest of the constitutional officers — attorney general, secretary of state and auditor — would see contribution caps raised to $4,000 for the election cycle. Candidates for those offices are currently limited to $1,000 in an election year and $200 in other years.
The Senate’s contribution limit would be $3,000 and the House’s $1,500. Both chambers are currently limited to $500 in an election year and $100 in other years. Judicial race contributions would be capped at $4,500 — $2,000 in election years and $500 in other years.
As for spending limits, the governor would be capped at $5 million, which is an increase from $2.58 million. The Senate would be increased from $68,100 to $120,000 and the House would be increased from $34,300 to $60,000.
Winkler noted that the increases are needed because candidates are getting overshadowed by outside spending groups that are able to raise and spend unlimited sums.
“More money is coming into campaigns, but it’s almost all flowing through third parties,” Winkler said. “It’s almost to the point where in competitive races, the candidates themselves aren’t able to raise and spend enough money to talk to voters through ads and mail and all of that stuff, because they get drowned out by the third-party groups.”
In some other areas of campaign finance law, the bills increase the threshold for needing to file a campaign committee with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board from $100 to $750. The bills also increase the amount of money that can be contributed anonymously from $20 to $50.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth argued that the higher cap on anonymous contributions will reduce the public’s knowledge of political spending.
“Minnesota has always been looked to as a state that has a strong commitment to transparency in our election system,” Anderson said. “Quite honestly, when I look at these changes, I think it makes it less transparent.”
A major difference between the House and Senate bills concerns disclosure for so-called electioneering activity by third-party groups before a primary or general election. The issue of spending by outside groups has increased in prominence at the Capitol since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision ruled that corporate spending can’t be prohibited in political campaigns. In the wake of the decision, DFLers in the Legislature have sought to increase the disclosure requirements for the third-party groups that raise and spend corporate money.
Provisions that would regulate electioneering by third-party spenders were stripped out of the House bill in the face of opposition from the state’s largest anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. The Senate bill still contains the disclosure requirements. Currently, only ads and mailers that urge recipients to vote in a particular way are subject to disclosure rules. The Senate bill expands the definition of express advocacy to instances that are “susceptible of no interpretation by a reasonable person other than as advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates.”
The Senate bill applies the definition of electioneering communication to the period 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. Groups that send out ads or rent billboards would be required to identify themselves conspicuously on the material.