State lawmakers have sent a campaign finance bill to Gov. Mark Dayton that allows candidates to raise and spend more money. Giving candidates a bigger financial footprint in campaigns is seen as necessary because independent expenditure groups have been overshadowing them by spending unlimited amounts of money on swing races.
Several members of the DFL House and Senate majorities voted against the bill, which meant that votes from Republicans in the minority were needed to pass the bill. The conference report passed the Senate 47-15 with seven DFLers voting against and 16 Republicans voting in favor. The House bill passed later in the day 85-49. Twenty-seven Republicans voted in favor and 10 members of the DFL majority voted against the bill.
Campaign finance advocates gave the bill bad reviews. The conference committee jettisoned a provision that would have required increased disclosure for electioneering communications from independent expenditure groups that advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. Currently independent groups are only required to disclose their identities in their mailers and other communications if they expressly call for the election or defeat of a candidate within 60 days of a general election. A proposal that was brought into conference committee by the Senate would have broadened the statute to require disclosure for electioneering activity that’s “susceptible of no interpretation by a reasonable person other than as advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates.”
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who is the foremost advocate in the Legislature on campaign finance restrictions, criticized the bill in its entirety.
“Every part of this is simply weakening our laws on this and it’s… not even increasing disclosure on the independent expenditures,” Marty said.
The bill’s chief author in the House Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, acknowledged that bill wasn’t ideal and said he would continue to work on the electioneering activity.
“I think this bill falls short of what it should have done. Nevertheless I think it is a step in the right direction,” Winkler said.
The spending amounts in law are changed from annual limits to two-year election cycles. For gubernatorial races, the increase is from $2,577,200 in an election year to $3.5 million for the election cycle segment and $1.5 million in the non-election segment. House races go from $34,300 in an election year to $60,000 for the two-year period between elections. The Senate rises from $68,100 in the election year to $90,000 in the election segment and $30,000 in the non-election segment.
On the contribution limit side of things, donations to gubernatorial campaigns would be increased from a $2,000 maximum in an election year to $4,000 in an election segment. In non-election years, the current $500 limit would be increased to $2,000 in the non-election segment of the election cycle. House and Senate races would both go from $500 in an election year to $1,000 for the election segment of the cycle.
Marty and also Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, denounced the bill’s proposal to increase the threshold for the amount of money that legislators can receive without having to disclose the identity of the donor. For amounts of $200 or less, the names of the donor won’t need to be disclosed. That’s an increase from the current $100 threshold.
Some DFLers also criticized an exception to the gift ban that would allow lobbyists to pay for a legislator to attend a reception as long as all 201 legislators are invited.
“There’s no reason why we can’t socialize without somebody else paying our way. And frankly, under the bill, the only groups that can do this are the ones with the money to be able to invite all members of the Legislature,” Marty said.