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Minnesota Campaign Finance Laws in Need of Reform

April 25, 2007

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jaclyn Kessel (646) 452–5637 (o) / (508) 951–9737 (c)

Report from NYU’s Brennan Center Finds Minnesota’s Campaign Finance Laws Lacking, Urges Reforms

National Think Tank Urges Limits on Special-Interest Contributions and Improvements in Public Financing

New York – Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released a new report finding that Minnesota’s campaign finance system is broken and badly in need of reform.

The report, Campaign Finance in Minnesota, is the fifth study of campaign finance systems in the Midwest to be released by the Brennan Center. The study finds that a major loophole in Minnesota’s campaign finance system permits special interests to funnel unlimited amounts of money to political parties, legislative caucuses, and PACs- creating massive opportunities for special interest groups to distort Minnesota’s political process.

“Independent spending by special interests has exploded in Minnesota in recent years. In 2006, political parties, unions, and business-backed groups spent $7 million to influence the outcome of the gubernatorial race- outspending the two main candidates” said Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and the lead author of the report. “The lack of contribution limits creates a lopsided system of campaign messaging, with parties and PACs amassing campaign coffers far larger than individual candidates.”

Specifically, the Minnesota report found that individuals and PACs may donate unlimited amounts of money to political parties, legislative caucuses, and other PACs.  The funds are then used primarily for independent expenditures.

According to Novak, in 2004 the two major political parties in Minnesota raised over $4 million and each party’s caucus campaign committees collected between $2.7 and $2.9 million apiece—sums that far outweighed the amounts candidates could raise and spend.

Scott Cooper, Education Fund Director, TakeAction Minnesota, also noted that special interest largesse wasn’t limited to Minnesota’s political parties:  “Last year the leading financier of the Swift Boat Veterans group literally walked in and made a $500,000 contribution to sway the outcome of the Minnesota gubernatorial race.”

In addition to recommending that Minnesota limit big donor contributions, the report concluded that while Minnesota’s partial public financing program is among the strongest in the Midwest, more must be done to combat the appearance of corruption.

Novak noted that despite a high rate of participation in the public financing program, about one in four Minnesota citizens said that they were “extremely concerned” about “the influence of money in state politics” in a recent survey conducted by the Joyce Foundation: “To restore the public’s faith in the system, Minnesota lawmakers should consider implementing a full public financing system,” Novak stated.

Local advocates welcomed the Brennan Center’s report and urged the Governor and Legislature to act on its recommendations.

“This report makes clear that Minnesota’s campaign finance system is lagging behind other states in the region in keeping special interest money out of politics,” stated Cooper.

“The Minnesota Legislature needs to get to work on common-sense campaign finance reforms that will level the playing field and give regular people a fair shot at being heard in St. Paul.”

Campaign Finance in Minnesota