Common Cause files complaint against Minnesota Majority

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2012 - 12:28 AM

Lobbying related to voter ID legislation at heart of battle.

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"It is time for the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to more effectively enforce Minnesota’s rules for lobbyists," said Mike Dean of Common Cause.

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Common Cause of Minnesota says its opponents in the voter ID fight, the nonprofit Minnesota Majority, broke state law by not registering its lobbying activities.

"Minnesota Majority has been caught red-handed in an effort to circumvent Minnesota lobbyist laws," Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said in a statement Tuesday. "It is time for the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to more effectively enforce Minnesota's rules for lobbyists."

The complaint says Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, should have registered himself as a lobbyist with the state. In recent court documents, McGrath said he started working with legislators "to construct and promote" a photo ID bill for voters in November 2010.

The Legislature passed the bill this year, which placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require Minnesotans to show photo identification before they vote.

McGrath scoffed at the complaint. He said that while at the Capitol, he offered expert advice on the topic of voter IDs. "I'm not a lobbyist," he said. "A lobbyist would be somebody paid by a corporation to twist arms at the Legislature."

What separates a lobbyist from an ordinary citizen who comes to the Legislature to talk to a lawmaker? Money. State law defines a lobbyist as someone who is paid more than $3,000 to lobby or who spends more than $250 on lobbying or spends more than 50 hours a month on lobbying.

The Common Cause complaint accuses Minnesota Majority of spending "significant time and money lobbying in support of the voter ID amendment."

State law bars the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board from commenting on complaints until it renders a ruling. Gary Goldsmith, the board's executive director, said there are executive directors of nonprofits who appear at the Capitol to speak about legislation but who don't meet the definition of a lobbyist.

"It's fairly easy to separate the pros from the ordinary Joes" when it comes to lobbying, he said. The law generally identifies anyone who is paid to communicate with lawmakers and to attempt to influence their votes as a lobbyist.

Unregistered lobbyists can face fines of as much as $1,000 if they continue to lobby once the board notifies them that they are violating the law. But lobbyists can avoid any fines by simply filling out the proper paperwork, Goldsmith said.

The complaint can be read at www.startribune.com/a1478.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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