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Court: A limit on Minnesota political donations must be lifted

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: May 19, 2014 - 4:01 PM

Wealthy Minnesotans will be able to give more money to candidates this year after a federal judge decided on Monday that the state could no longer enforce a long-standing limit on certain donations.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank rests heavily on recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions opening up a flood of money into politics. Frank, with some clear personal hesitation, said he had no choice but to temporarily block enforcement of the Minnesota limit.

“Although the undersigned may not agree with the Supreme Court’s recent line of cases on the subject of campaign finance, and their effect on the integrity of public governmental institutions, the Court acknowledges that it is nevertheless bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court,” Frank wrote.

The decision, which strikes down part of a Minnesota law designed to keep major donors, lobbyists, parties and PACs influence at bay, means that donors can immediately give candidates more.

The Minnesota law being negated forced candidates from accepting only 20 percent of their campaign cash from mega-donors, lobbyists, parties and PACs. Once they hit that 20 percent limit, they could only accept half as much money from future individual donors and no money from political funds, PACs or lobbyists.

Now, that limit on later donors is lifted.

“The state of Minnesota cannot dish out first amendment rights on a first come first serve basis,” said Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice.

The law temporarily struck down limited 2014 candidates for governor to accepting only $730,200 from lobbyists, political funds, PACs or major donors. Before they hit that limit, candidates could accept up to $4,000 from any individual.

After the candidates hit the $730,200 limit, they could accept only $2,000 contributions per individual and they cannot take any money from political funds, PACs or lobbyists.

For House candidates, the limits are much lower. House candidates could accept up to $1,000 in donations from individuals, lobbyists, political funds and PACs. But once they hit a collective total of $12,500, no individual could give more than $500.

After Frank’s decision on Monday, the amount an individual donor can give to those campaigns will essentially double.

A gubernatorial candidate can accept $4,000 all the way through their campaigns and House candidates can take up to $1,000, no matter how much they’ve previously received from lobbyists, PACs, political funds or large dollar donors.

“It is another way for very rich individuals to have even greater influence in the political process. It makes a bad situation worse,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. At the Legislature, Winkler has fought for greater disclosure of campaign spending information.

Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said the board is immediately restrained from limiting how much those later donors can give. He said the agency will spread the word to parties and through its email list.

Goldsmith said "it is far too soon to determine" whether the board will appeal the ruling or what legal path it will take.

Read the decision here:

14cv1016ord051914 by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

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