Run-off voting delays finance disclosure

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2009 - 9:53 AM

Minneapolis elections are likely to unfold this year with less campaign finance disclosure than voters have seen in decades.

That's because the city's planned instant-runoff voting method doesn't use a primary election. That means candidates won't have to file the usual pre-primary report around Labor Day showing who has contributed to their campaigns.

So most election-year contributions won't be disclosed until late October, just before voters head to the polls.

"This is probably a big 'oops' for everybody who was pushing on instant-runoff voting because what you're going to lose is the information of knowing who the political contributors are," said David Schultz, who teaches government ethics and election law at Hamline University.

"That's valuable information because it tells you something about who's trying to influence the campaign, but more importantly contributors might tell you where candidates stand on the issues. You lose valuable clues or cues."

Candidates have been required to disclose their campaign contributors in Minneapolis since the early 1970s, according to Lyall Schwarzkopf, a retired city clerk. The law has required such reports be filed 10 days before the primary and general elections.

Former Council Member Tony Scallon said early reports can provide grist for campaign debates. He recalled a campaign in which he highlighted how much bar owners seeking to defeat Scallon were giving his opponent's campaign, and his opponent called attention to developer contributions to Scallon.

"I think it's important to have as early a read as possible on where the candidates are coming from, where their war chests are coming from," said Pat Scott, another former council member.

Council Member Cam Gordon, an instant-runoff supporter, called the reduced reporting "very unfortunate. It's something that I didn't anticipate." Gordon said that he already has been laying groundwork to propose more frequent reporting of campaign spending and that smaller contributions be reported.

"Having a report in September would be a great thing for voters so they can see who's donating," he said. But the council's Election Committee chair, Elizabeth Glidden, said so far she doesn't have a strong opinion about restoring a mid-election report.

Like other council members, she's expecting a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling soon on a constitutional challenge to instant-runoff voting, in which voters rank up to three candidates for a seat in the order they prefer them. The second and third choices come into play only if the leading candidate fails to reach a majority in a race for a single seat, or the required fraction of votes in multi-seat races.

Meanwhile, the city is developing backup plans to return to traditional elections in case the new method is struck down.

The opinion that without a primary no pre-primary reports are legally required came from the Hennepin County attorney's office because Minneapolis campaign reports are filed with the county. But County Attorney Mike Freeman said although that's the law, he personally thinks more disclosure would be better.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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