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Charter commission votes to raise filing fee to $500

Posted by: Updated: November 6, 2013 - 7:27 PM

Less than 24 hours after Minneapolis voters finished hacking through a 35-candidate ballot, the Charter Commission voted unanimously to raise the entry fee from $20 to $500, matching St. Paul's.

The lower fee, in place for at least 40 years -- according to commissioner Lyall Schwarzkopf, who remembered it from when he was city clerk in 1972 -- had enabled candidates, in the absence of a primary, to make "a mockery" of recent mayoral elections, said Commissioner Devin Rice.

"We shouldn't overreact, but 35 candidates was ridiculous," said Commisisoner Jan Sandberg. "We absolutely have to do something about that filing fee."

The $20 fee is set by a state law which allows cities to adopt higher fees. The $20 fee applied to only four cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester.  St. Paul had put a $50 fee in place, then raised that to $500 in 2010. Rochester's fee went from $25 to $50 in 1988. Duluth's? Still $20.

The new Minneapolis fees are intended to be entered into the overhauled city charter that voters overwhelmingly approved Tuesday. The revised charter takes effect in 2015. But first they have to go before the City Council, which can change them and send them back to the charter commission for another vote before they're entered into the charter. Commission chairman Barry CLegg said that if the council refuses to act, the proposal will go directly to voters in 2014. He said he'd expect overwhelming support.

Rice first proposed raising the mayoral filing fee to $300, pointing out that he didn't want to judge the seriousness of any candidate, but did want to make sure that they filed campaign finance reports, which a $100 expenditure triggers. He also said he didn't think it should cost more to file for mayor than it does for U.S. Senate ($500) and governor ($400).

But the rest of the board upped the ante, also raising the fee to enter a city council race from $20 to $250, and the fee to run for Park and Recreation Board and the Board of Estimate and Taxation from $20 to $100.

"$500 today is not a barrier," said Commissioner Todd Ferrara.

Twenty dollars in 1972 would be worth $111.70 today.

Candidate Bob "Again" Carney agreed that Tuesday's ballot was "cumbersome." He said the higher filing fee might have reduced the mayoral field to a dozen or so candidates. He would have paid it, in part because he viewed running for mayor primarily as a way to focus attention on transit issues -- his key interest. "I don't want to be mayor," he said.

The commission will seek to have the city council act on the proposal quickly, before a new council takes office in January. The current "lame duck" council may have less political stake in the increase than the incoming council, he said.

"The time to do it is now," said Rice.

State law still allows candidates to file for office by gathering signatures of 500 voters or 2 percent of the total turnout in the most recent election, whichever is greater. That will not change. Although filing by petition would allow candidates to avoid filing a campaign finance report, Clegg said they'd hit the $100 expenditure triggering the required report "as soon as they buy their first lawn signs."

Photo: Tuesday's mayoral ballot listed 35 candidates. Voters could choose three and rank them.

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