Senator John Marty: Silently Destroying Minnesota’s Campaign Financing Reforms
What if Republicans repealed Minnesota’s campaign finance reforms and nobody knew about it? Unfortunately, that is happening right now.
Both the Minnesota House and Senate recently passed legislation to repeal the heart of Minnesota’s campaign finance reform laws. These were major reforms adopted on a bipartisan basis forty years ago in the wake of the Watergate scandal and were strengthened after an ethics scandal in the early 1990s.
Despite widespread disgust at the corruption of our democracy from powerful special interests and deep frustration at the Citizens’ United ruling which allowed more big money into politics, there has been no public outcry about this effort to repeal Minnesota’s reforms, even though this will make the situation worse.
Why the lack of outcry? Simply put, the public doesn’t know about it. I have not seen a single news report about the issue, perhaps because the repeal is buried in the large budget bill that funds state agencies. It takes just 4 lines hidden in a lengthy 56-page bill to destroy four decades of campaign financing reform.
The law being repealed established campaign spending limits for candidates. Those spending limits are tied to public financing to help give new candidates and those without a lot of money a chance to compete without relying on wealthy interests to fund their campaigns.
Virtually all candidates for the Minnesota legislature and constitutional offices currently abide by the spending limits. If this repeal is signed into law, in 2018 there won’t be any restriction on how much a candidate can spend.
People who care about the future of our democracy should be outraged. Year after year, politicians and the courts have been steadily turning our democracy over to the highest bidders, turning our elections into auctions. Well-funded interests can win enough close races to determine who controls government.
As a candidate who has rejected all PAC and lobbyist money, I am concerned that candidates who reject special interest money will have no chance of winning, and that legislators will become even more beholden to the interests of the big donors who fund their campaigns.
Major changes in state policy such as this should not be buried in budget bills. Senate File 605, the State Government Appropriations Bill that contains the repeal of the campaign finance reforms, is in conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language. The one conferee fighting to block it is Sen. Carolyn Laine, the only DFL member of the committee. Unless the Republican conference committee members have a change of heart, or unless the Governor vetoes the bill, Minnesota’s campaign finance reforms will be gone.
If we believe that our state should be governed by the will of the voters, not the desires of wealthy donors and powerful interests, we need to speak out now. For the sake of our democracy, we need the legislature to remove the repeal language or for Governor Dayton to veto the bill.
This column was first published in Minnpost.