Campaign finance board to recommend overhaul
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- December 12, 2012 - 5:45 PM
The Minnesota agency charged with watching campaign spending will push the Legislature to give it a heftier budget, approve higher donation limits and require more groups disclosure their finances.
The proposals from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, approved by members on Wednesday, are the latest sign the laws have not kept pace with the newly expensive campaigns in Minnesota. They would be need legislative and gubernatorial approval but the powers at the Capitol have expressed interest in updating the system.
The board will also ask the Legislature for a $1 million budget in each of the next four years, which would allow the information the state currently collects to be more accessible to the public. Right now, it requires more than glancing knowledge of the state's big money players to dig out public information from the agency's web site. If the board gets its budget, the site will be completely overhauled.
"We're not happy with it," said board executive director Gary Goldsmith.
The board members will also ask the Legislature to raise the contribution limits for state candidates and raise the amount of money lawmakers and constitutional officers could spending in their campaigns. The current limits have not changed in more than two decades.
At a minimum, the board recommended the spending limit for gubernatorial candidates increase from just over $4 million to $5 million and increase the limit on House members from $41,160 to $60,000. Candidates for secretary of state and state auditor might see the biggest bump up to $1 million. Currently they are only permitted to spend $343,680 per election cycle.
While the board's proposal will outline potential increases, the members also discussed recommended even higher limits.
"I think even the increases you are suggesting here are too low," said board member Andy Lugar. "I don't think there's any magic number."
The board decided to suggest set limits but tell lawmakers they consider the increases a minimum, leaving it to the Legislature and the governor to further raise them.
Gov. Mark Dayton has already expressed interest in raising the limits for campaign spending.
The board decided to punt, for now, on whether to redefine who needs to register as a lobbyist and require more disclosure of economic interests from lawmakers. On both issues, members and Goldsmith said they already had a large package of proposals to pitch and they had not given changes sufficient examination.
But that doesn't mean some board members do not think the systems need changing or that lawmakers may not propose their own changes.
"I think that’s desperately needed in Minnesota," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. He said he may introduce legislation to require lawmakers to report more about their money-making ventures. Right now, he said, a lawmaker could be doing consultant work for a lobbying group and no one would ever know.
Currently most states require far more information from their office holders about their income than Minnesota requires from it's leaders. A few years ago, the state received a failing grade for the quality of its disclosure.
"I don't think it discloses much of anything," said board member Neil Peterson. Peterson used have to fill out the disclosure forms as a Republican state House member and still does as a campaign finance board member.
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