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Watchdog group files complaint against two marriage amendment supporters

Posted by: Updated: February 22, 2012 - 3:35 PM

An election watchdog group today accused two groups supporting Minnesota's marriage amendment campaign of violating state election finance laws by failing to properly disclose donors.

Common Cause Minnesota asked the state's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to investigate the groups, Minnesota for Marriage and Minnesota Family Council, both headed by John Helmberger, for alleged violations of state law.

"Minnesota law requires disclosure of campaign contributions because the public has a right to know what special interests are paying for political ads," Common Cause Minnesota's executive director Mike Dean said.

Chuck Darrell, a spokesman with Minnesota for Marriage, said they have not seen the complaint, but he accused Dean of being "hardly an uninterested person" and someone who is trying to help the other side on the marriage amendment. Darrell said the campaign finance board staff told his group earlier this month that there was nothing in its disclosure filing that indicated a violation of the board's rules.  

"Minnesota for Marriage has complied with all the guidance of the campaign finance board," Darrell said.

Minnesota for Marriage is the lead advocacy group pushing for adoption of this fall's statewide ballot initiative that calls for a change to the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The group raised $830,000 last year for the campaign, according to state disclosure reports released earlier this month.

Minnesota for Marriage listed on its disclosure report seven individual donors who gave a total of $2100. Its other three donors were the Minnesota Catholic Conference, Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage who gave the remaining $828,000.

Groups opposing the amendment reported hundreds of contributors. Dean in a release said it lacks credibility to believe that there is such a disparity in grassroots support between the two sides. His complaint against Minnesota Family Council  alleges it should be registered as a political fund and be required to disclose its donors.

Common Cause asks that Helmberger be charged with a gross misdemeanor for signing what it claims is a false disclosure report. It also asks that civil penalties be filed against the two organizations.

Board Executive Director Gary Goldsmith said he cannot comment about any complaints. Typically, the board evaluates complaints and makes a decision within a few days on whether it has merit to investigate or not.

The complaint is the latest twist in an ongoing battle between the various parties about the level of disclosure required by groups working the ballot initiative.

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