Freedom Club State PAC, which supports conservative candidates and issues, spent more than $1 million to run a political ad 885 times on network TV last year without disclosing the spending as an independent expenditure, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Because of the ambiguous wording of the state's campaign disclosure statute, however, the group's decision not to disclose the spending as an independent expenditure was perfectly legal, said Jeff Sigurdson, assistant director, in a memo and presentation to the board Tuesday.
Sigurdson said the cost of the ad appeared to be disclosed as a general expenditure made by the Freedom Club committee, though if the group had used its nonprofit corporation to spend the money it could have avoided even that level of disclosure.
Many election observers believe that recent federal court cases partially strking down campaign finance laws have led to significant sums spent without disclosure, including millions last year in Minnesota alone.
An independent expenditure must be declared if it expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate, but Minnesota law isn't clear on what that means. A prior U.S. Supreme Court ruling provided eight words that show express advocacy, including elect, support, cast your ballot for, Smith for Congress, vote against, defeat and reject.
The board has previously proposed a statutory change at the Legislature that would more broadly define express advocacy and thereby close the loophole and give Minnesotans more information about where political ads are coming from. The Legislature has declined to take up the language.
Board member Daniel Rosen said the board could bypass the Legislature and use its rulemaking authority to broaden the definition of express advocacy.
Rosen also went on to make the case that more political spending is good for American politics and pointed to a "rich history of anonymous speech" back to Revolutionary era pamphleteers in defense of anonymous political spending.
The board took no action.