Curious about who is funding your mayor's campaign? Minnesota is moving to make it easier to find out

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2014 - 11:18 PM

Legislative plan would make state one of the first, if not the first, to place such local financing data online.

Minnesotans curious about who funds their local officials’ campaigns may soon find their frustration at an end.

Jeff Kolb tried to view Crystal officials’ campaign finance information earlier this year and it wasn’t easy.

“You had to jump through a number of hoops,” said Kolb, a political activist and a council candidate in his suburban city.

Cities and counties collect the information, but most require citizens to visit official offices in person to examine the files and they offer little posted guidance on how to track donations down.

Now the Minnesota Legislature is moving to drag local campaign finance data into the digital age.

In exchange for raising the contribution limit on how much donors can give to local candidates, the Legislature is moving to require local governments to put their campaign finance files online and make them publicly accessible.

That would put the state in the forefront of local government campaign finance transparency. If the measure becomes law, Minnesota would become one of the first, if not the first, to force local politicians to disclose their spending and contributors on the Internet.

“This is an opportunity to get more disclosure and a better understanding of where money goes in local elections,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Golden Valley DFLer and the House sponsor of the measure.

Another Winkler bill, that would require more disclosure by interest groups that spend money on Minnesota politics, appears unlikely to win approval this year.

Few rules at local level

State, legislative and most federal campaign spending information has long been available on the Web, but finding that information about mayoral, council and school board members has been far more difficult.

“It is an area with tremendous variation,” said Emily Shaw, national policy manager of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for openness in government.

Shaw could find no state that mandates local governments post campaign information online, as Minnesota would.

A bipartisan cohort of Minnesota lawmakers believes it is time to do so. The online disclosure measure passed the Senate with overwhelming support — only two senators voted against it. On Monday, the House followed suit on a 121-11 vote.

“Folks should be able … to find as much information about the candidates as they can,” said Blaine Rep. Tim Sanders, the House Republican lead on election issues.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he is prepared to sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

Although Minnesota’s local governments do collect detailed information about local hopefuls who raise or spend more than $750 on an election, only some of the largest cities and counties make that information available online.

Most do not.

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