Nekima Levy-Pounds this week chided the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board for its advisory opinion giving Jacob Frey the go-ahead to use money he raised as a City Council member in his run for mayor of Minneapolis.
“When people donate, it’s an indication that they support that person running for City Council,” said Levy-Pounds, who is also running for mayor. “It’s not an indication that they would necessarily financially support that person running for a different office such as the mayor.”
Levy-Pounds, an attorney who stepped down in October as president of the Minneapolis NAACP and left her professorship at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, is in a five-way race with incumbent Betsy Hodges, Frey, DFL state Rep. Raymond Dehn and filmmaker Aswar Rahman.
Frey had $177,627 in campaign funds at the end of 2016, and announced he was running for mayor on Jan. 3. He sought an opinion from the Campaign Finance Board on whether he could use the money to run for mayor. Board staff wrote an opinion in January saying he could, and the board voted 4-1 to adopt the opinion last week, giving Frey a commanding financial lead over the other mayoral candidates.
State law allows legislators to use their campaign money to run for governor, but the rules are less clear for local elections. The board decided that preventing Frey from using the money in a mayoral run would be an infringement of his right to free speech. “We wanted to do this right and by the book, so we officially asked the question,” Frey said. “I’m glad there’s clarity.”
But Levy-Pounds said the decision will encourage council members to focus on running for higher office rather than the work of a council member. She also noted it sets a new local election precedent — no candidate has done what Frey is doing at least since the 1980s. Hodges didn’t do it when she ran for mayor as a council member. Neither has St. Paul Council Member Dai Thao in his run for mayor.
“It just doesn’t make any sense on a practical level, and it’s not a decision they should have pulled out of thin air to benefit one candidate,” said Levy-Pounds. “I don’t think that the Campaign Finance Board thought through the unintended consequences of making up new rules to benefit Jacob Frey.”
Levy-Pounds said she hasn’t yet filed a court challenge. “I wouldn’t have the capacity while running my campaign to launch a legal challenge on my own,” she said. “But if there were attorneys willing to support me it is certainly something I would entertain.”