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U.S. Supreme Court decision strikes down aggregate limits on giving; may not have immediate impact on Minnesota law

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under 1st District, 2012 Presidential election, 2nd District, 3rd District, 4th District, 5th District, 6th District, 7th District, 8th District, Funding, Minnesota U.S. senators, Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota congressional Updated: April 2, 2014 - 6:16 PM

On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal limits on how much an individual can give to campaigns in aggregate, which could allow high dollar donors to spread their largess to a wider swath of political hopefuls and parties.

Unlike the federal system, which essentially limited how many donations in total a donor could give, Minnesota law does not place restrictions on the number of campaigns to which a high-dollar donor can contribute.

Current state law allows donors to give massive amounts to parties or PACs and allows donors 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 place limits on how much candidates can accept from certain types of donors but Goldsmith said those restrictions were not considered by the court.

Other states, including Wisconsin, do have laws to 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 impacted by the federal decision.

The Supreme Court did not overturn the concept of limiting what a campaign can accept from a donor. Currently, donors are limited to giving $5,200 per candidate per election cycle to federal candidates. Minnesota law puts similar restrictions on what an individual can give to a single candidate.

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

DFL chair Ken Martin said the ruling allows parties to tap donors for funds, even if those donors had already given to multiple other parties or candidates.

"It has a big impact on state parties," said Martin.

Currently, donors are limited to giving $123,200 for 2013 and 2014 in total to all federal campaigns. That limit made federal cash difficult to raise, Martin said. 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 whether or not those individuals had already given to many other federal committees.

"That is hugely helpful to state parties," Martin said. He said the lifting of the overall cap will mean that parties can be more involved in helping federal candidates "up and down the ballot here in Minnesota."

Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey said the decision may mean candidates and parties will be able to raise more.

"It 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," Downey said.

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

According to a Star Tribune analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics, John Grundhofer, former chairman of U.S. Bancorps, donated $142,200 through the end of last year and Patricia Grundhofer, whose is listed on federal documents as the director of the John F. Grundhofer Charitable Foundation, donated $125,600. They gave primarily to non-Minnesota Republican committees.

Stanley Hubbard, head of Hubbard Broadcasting and a a frequent donor to state as well as federal causes, gave nearly $100,000 to federal committees last year alone. He said that every election cycle he gets many calls soliciting donations and he has to refuse them because he is maxed out.

Hubbard has a simple prediction for what will happen now that the court rejected the overall limits: "They are going to start calling."

Updated

Star Tribune data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.

12-536_e1pf by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

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