Mega-donors expect a lot of calls after court alters campaign laws

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER  , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2014 - 8:53 PM

An individual can now give millions to candidates for federal office.

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Gary Goldsmith, executive director, Campaign finance and Public Disclosure Board

Photo: GLENN STUBBE, Star Tribune

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Mega-donor Stanley Hubbard had an instant reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down limits on how much individual contributors can give to federal campaigns.

“They are going to start calling,” said the head of Minnesota-based Hubbard Broadcasting. In 2013 Hubbard donated nearly $100,000 to federal campaigns.

Hubbard said that in most years he answered many fundraising calls by simply saying that he had already reached his legal limit on giving. Before the court’s decision, donors could give a maximum of $123,200 across all federal campaigns, political action committees and parties.

Now there is no aggregate ceiling on donations. That means a generous donor could legally give millions to candidates for federal office, millions more to federal party committees and even more to political action committees.

The court did not strike down the limits on how much an individual can give to each campaign. Federal donors are still limited to $5,200 per candidate, $5,000 per political action committee and $10,000 per state party committee during any election cycle.

Since the court avoided negating those limits, Minnesota’s laws regulating campaign giving remain intact.

Minnesota law does not restrict the number of campaigns to which a high-dollar donor can contribute. State law allows donors to give massive amounts to parties or PACs and allows them to spread their donations to as many candidates or party committees as they wish.

“We’ve never limited the amount that an individual donor can give to a whole group of candidates,” said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota campaign finance board. “We don’t limit at all the amount of money that an individual can give to a party.”

Minnesota does limit the amount candidates can accept from certain types of donors, but Goldsmith said those restrictions were not considered by the court.

Other states, including Wisconsin, do limit the aggregate donations a contributor can spend in an election cycle, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Those nine states’ laws may be directly affected by the federal decision.

The court decision will have a far-reaching impact on federal campaigns and parties, including those from Minnesota.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat up for re-election this year, called the court’s decision terrible. He said the ruling, combined with the 2010 decision that allowed corporate cash into campaigns, gives, “wealthy, well-funded corporate interests undue influence, access, and power.” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., sounded a similar alarm.

DFL chair Ken Martin said the ruling was “mainly negative.” But, he said that the lifting of the overall cap also means that parties can be more involved in helping federal candidates “up and down the ballot here in Minnesota.”

“It has a big impact on state parties,” said Martin. The limit on federal cash made it difficult for parties to raise cash. The Minnesota parties were not limited to what they could raise from individuals in their state committees.

After the decision, Minnesota parties will be able to raise more federal money — up to $10,000 per individual — from donors even if those individuals had already given to many other federal committees.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey said the ruling will “serve to direct campaign spending toward those who are closest to the public and most publicly accountable for their campaign activities. It also underscores the importance of both transparency and the protection of political speech, which are so important in our political process.”

Several donors with Minnesota ties have contributed enough in 2013 that they could have bumped up against the limit the court struck down.

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