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Federal appeals court rejects part of Minnesota campaign law

Posted by: under Funding, Minnesota legislature Updated: September 5, 2012 - 5:04 PM

A federal appeals court Wednesday rejected part of a Minnesota law requiring companies to create separate political organizations to handle their campaign activities.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis found that Minnesota law requiring companies to register and regularly report their political activities creates a “long-term morass of regulatory red tape” and potentially violates their constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

Any restrictions on those expenditures strike “at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms,” Judge William Riley wrote on behalf of the 6-5 majority.

Riley wrote Minnesota’s law hinders companies’ free speech, violating the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which lifted limits on how much companies and unions can spend on political candidates or causes.

Minnesota’s law requires companies and organization to create a political-action fund if they spend more than $100 a year on political activity. The separate political group must have a treasurer who keeps detailed records of expenditures and contributions and is required to file regular reports with the state. Group’s that fail to comply can be socked with steep fines and imprisonment up to five years.

The lawsuit was brought by anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Coastal Travel Enterprises, which argued the law violates their free speech and prevents them from making contributions to candidates or political parties.

“This victory for free speech is tremendous,” said James Bopp, Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The Eighth Circuit recognizes that full-fledged political-committee burdens are onerous.”

State Rep. Ryan Winkler, who chief authored the law in question, said decision, coupled with the Citizens United ruling, undermines the democratic system.

“These courts have degraded our democracy by eliminating rules that provide accountability for politicians and sunlight for the political spending of the richest and most powerful people and organizations in the country,” said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.




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