Lori Sturdevant: Candidates and payrolls

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2012 - 3:25 PM
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State Sen. Dave Thompson

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Should political parties be permitted to put or keep candidates for elective office on their payrolls? And if so, should Minnesota voters know about it?

Those questions linger, despite the decision Tuesday by a state campaign finance watchdog official to dismiss a DFL complaint about GOP Sen. Dave Thompson’s work for the state Republican Party while running for office.

Thompson was paid a reported $70,000 beginning in 2009 for independent contractor work as a communications consultant. In 2010, Thompson won the south-suburban District 36 Senate seat.

His official Senate financial disclosure statement made no reference to his Republican Party income. That’s because state law explicitly excludes independent contractor income from the reporting requirement.

The Legislature created that exception to the law’s disclosure rules because some contractors would be at a competitive disadvantage if forced to disclose the names of their clients.

But that exception goes too far if it allows political parties to pay candidates to run for office.

That does not appear to be what happened in Thompson’s case. His decision to run for office came well after he entered into the contract with the GOP. 

Nevertheless, his case now stands as a how-to guide for any future political organization that’s inclined to offer a surreptitious paycheck to entice a reluctant candidate to run for office.

DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler plans to introduce a bill Wednesday that at least would apply some sunlight to that situation. It would require legislators and legislative candidates to disclose all independent contractor income.

That might be too broad a swipe at this problem. Legislators are part-time officials, and shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to earn a living by disclosure rules.

But at a minimum, candidates’ and legislators’ independent contractor income from political parties and entities that lobby or do business with state government ought to be disclosed.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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