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Continued: Minnesota campaign donations shifting to big bucks

Early signs are the small-dollar donors may be coming back, according to the newspaper’s analysis. Legislative contribution figures released this year show that with only a few exceptions, the percentage of individual contributions coming from modest contributions was bigger in 2013 than in 2012.

More figures will be available this week when new reports are filed.

If there is a rebound in the relative importance of grass-roots donors, many say Minnesota’s Political Contribution Refund (PCR) program gets much of the credit. The program, unique to Minnesota, offers a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement up to $50 for individuals or $100 for couples giving to political parties or candidates. The decline in small-dollar contributions coincides almost exactly with the program’s suspension.

“There is, in my mind, no reasonable explanation other than the suspension of the PCR,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

The program was on hiatus from 2009 until 2013, the result of state budget deficits and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s dislike of having the state underwrite political contributions.

In 2013, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and a DFL-controlled Legislature reinstated the program.

Rest, vice chair of the Senate Taxes Committee, said the program allows Minnesotans who can’t afford to give big bucks to have a financial voice in elections. She and others say it also helps first-time candidates, who lack the political resources of incumbents, to build their bases.

Daudt says the state should not subsidize contributions.

“If you ask people: ‘Do you think it is a good use of tax dollars to reimburse people when they have given $50 to a candidate?’” he said. “I think the answer would be ‘no.’ ”

Despite any philosophical objections, Republicans historically have employed the program to better effect than Democrats, pulling in more money from it. And when the program was reinstated in 2013, few Republicans said they would abstain from using it. “These are the rules that they put forward for our campaigns,” Daudt said at the time. “You would put yourself at a severe disadvantage by not participating.”

 

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @RachelSB

Glenn Howatt • Twitter: @glennhowatt

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