Independent political spending plays a bigger role in campaigns in Minnesota than in many other states, according to a new report out today by a national nonprofit group that studies the influence of money in state politics.
From 2006 to 2010, nearly $34.8 million was spent on independent expenditures in Minnesota state races, which is slightly more than half the $63.9 million in direct contributions to candidates, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The Institute highlighted Minnesota's experience with independent expenditures in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said corporations and unions can spend unlimited funds on political activity in the form of independent expenditures. The state lifted its ban on corporate spending following the decision, but also passed comprehensive disclosure requirements, the report concluded.
Still, the report found that Minnesota has a significant hole in its campaign disclosure laws that does not account for the full extent of the money spent to influence campaigns. Independent expenditures are used to help a particular candidate or cause, but they are carried out by political parties or other groups acting independent of the candidates.
State law does not require disclosure if an independent ad simply talks about a candidate without explicitly asking for support or opposition -- a form of spending known as electioneering communications.
This makes “it impossible to know the total amount of independent money trying to influence the outcome of Minnesota’s elections,” the Institute’s report concluded.
The state requires disclosure of independent spending if it is used on ads that explicitly advocate to vote for or against a  candidate. The Institute applauded Minnesota for requiring reporting of the original source of a group’s nonprofit donors, which many states have not required.
And while the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board does a good job collecting data on independent expenditures, it does a “poor job” making that information easy for the public to access on its website.

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