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More disclosure possible for state ballot measures

  • Article by: PATRICK CONDON
  • Associated Press
  • November 1, 2011 - 8:46 PM

The Minnesota board that regulates campaign spending might still pursue stronger disclosure guidelines for groups that spend money to influence statewide ballot measures.

The state's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has continued to tinker with enforcement guidelines, in what could have wide ramifications for next year's statewide vote on whether to ban gay marriage with an amendment to the state Constitution. Groups in favor of the marriage ban have accused the board of overstepping its authority, even as the leader of a group dedicated to government openness charged that the board's guidelines are overly timid.

"I think it's highly likely we're going to see millions of undisclosed dollars flow into the 2012 election," said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota.

The marriage amendment has been most frequently cited in the board's deliberations over ballot measure disclosure guidelines, since, for the time being, it's the only statewide ballot measure in 2012. However, legislative Republicans have suggested they could push more issues to the November ballot, including a supermajority vote requirement in the Legislature to raise taxes or another measure to require a valid state photo ID in order to vote.

At issue are donations to groups advocating on either side of ballot campaigns. Direct donations to groups that set up political funds on either side of the issue are subject to disclosure. But state campaign finance laws passed in 2010 suggested a higher level of disclosure that would require other advocacy groups that donate to such political funds to report their own donor lists -- even if such donations were not specifically earmarked to influence the ballot measure campaigns.

So, for instance, a group such as the National Organization for Marriage, which donates money to Minnesota political funds, would be compelled to disclose its donor lists.

"These could be donations that may not have even been intended for this campaign. That's actually misleading the public," said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Supporters of the marriage amendment have called that unnecessarily intrusive, suggesting it would trample free speech and could discourage some donors who fear intimidation or threats over their involvement in the campaign.

Those groups have criticized the campaign board for not settling on its guidelines even as the campaign gears up, but the board on a split vote Tuesday defeated a motion to instruct its staff to stop retooling the guidelines. That could leave the board with further recommendations for guidelines that create even more specific disclosure rules.

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