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Lobbying violations vex understaffed Minnesota regulator

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 14, 2012 - 11:05 PM

The state's top regulator of lobbyists and campaign spending said Tuesday that he can't fully enforce state law on influence peddling at the State Capitol because of staff shortages in his office.

The state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board knows that some of Minnesota's 1,450 registered lobbyists are not complying with disclosure laws, but the board doesn't have staff to catch them because they must focus on other priorities, according to Gary Goldsmith, the board's executive director.

Goldsmith said, for example, that his office knows of groups that hire lobbyists who are not disclosing the underlying source of their funds, which is required by law. There are also discrepancies on lobbying reports that point to potential violations, but the board staff does not have time to review them because they must focus on more pressing campaign finance matters, he said.

"There are compliance issues that we know of in the lobbyist program that we simply cannot review and enforce because we don't have staff to do it," Goldsmith said in delivering his office's biennial report to the board. The office is charged with regulating lobbyists, campaign fundraising and spending, as well as overseeing disclosure of economic interests of 2,200 public officials across Minnesota.

Goldsmith said the board during its last budget year reluctantly adopted a recommendation to help increase its funding by implementing fees on those it regulates. But that proposal didn't get far in the Legislature and is not expected to be revisited until the next legislative session, if at all.

The office currently has approximately 7.5 staff positions, but needs nine to do the job, Goldsmith said.

A new national study by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., ranked Minnesota as weak in several areas of lobbying disclosure, including some aspects of lobbyist monitoring. It also found that although lobbyists are required to register, in practice registration information was not comprehensive.

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has suffered budget cuts in recent years that have hurt its ability to keep up, said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a government watchdog group.

"The Legislature has made sure that the board does not have the resources it needs to hold lobbyists and candidates accountable," Dean said.

Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777

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