The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board voted Tuesday to maintain its current policies regarding disclosure for ballot campaigns.
The board’s rulings have come under heightened scrutiny in recent months as the board works to adjust its policies to new laws passed in 2010. The board has been receiving feedback from both anti-gay marriage amendment supporters that want as little disclosure as possible and open government groups that favor full disclosure.
The board rejected a recommendation by campaign finance staff to relax some of the campaign finance guidance that had been considered at the agency’s June and October meetings, but board members also voted to carry forward with more research into the several aspects of ballot campaign disclosure.
Specifically, the board is looking into how to classify expenditures and if only “expressed advocacy” should be counted as an expenditure. For instance, in the 2010 gubernatorial election, the National Organization for Marriagelaunched more than $700,000 in campaign ads on the amendment and suggested that Republican Tom Emmerwas the only candidate that supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But because the ads did not explicitly tell voters who to support or take a position on whether the amendment should make it to the ballot, the ads were not subject to campaign finance disclosure rules.
The board’s proposed guidance would close that loophole.
“The vote is a temporary victory for disclosure because it is still possible that the board will only require disclosure of political advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of the ballot campaign,” Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesotatold the Minnesota Independent. “This could mean that advertising that does not explicitly state ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against’ the constitutional amendment would not be required to disclose the sources of their campaign contributions.” Common Cause sent a letter to the boardjust before the meeting citing statute and case law that supports its position.
The letter asked the board to implement rules to help “steer the debate about what is ‘electioneering’ and what is ‘issue advocacy’ back to a conversation that makes sense to average voters and not just election law lawyers.” It also asked the board to adopt the Federal Elections Commission standards.
“This letter was instrumental in convincing board members to reject the staff recommendations,” Dean said. “The next step is that the staff is going to provide additional language on what is a ballot question expenditure that is not so narrowly defined that it creates a giant loophole. Staff acknowledged during the meeting that if they adopted the guidance as recommended by staff, that it would create a loophole that could allow millions of dollars in undisclosed money to be spent on the ballot question next fall.”