In campaign ads and on his website, DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza makes much of his modest upbringing.

But even as his DFL rivals have opened their tax returns to public scrutiny, Entenza, whose wife acquired great wealth as a health care executive, is revealing little about his finances as he heads into the August primary.

It's easy to keep such details secret in Minnesota. Entenza and all candidates can take advantage of one of the nation's weakest financial disclosure laws.

Minnesota requires candidates to name their stock investments, sources of compensation and some real estate, but not the value.

Another omission more relevant to Entenza than to other gubernatorial candidates: Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not require candidates to report financial assets held only by their spouses.

"The public has a right to know whether the financial dealings of someone to whom you are married or have a family relationship with could potentially compromise your judgment," said David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who teaches political science.

Neither Entenza nor his wife, Lois Quam, agreed to comment on their family finances for this report. Entenza spokesman Jeremy Drucker said there is little indication that voters want the disclosure of spousal income and assets.

"I think if that were the case, then lawmakers would have passed a law that would have required it," Drucker said.

Self-restriction unpopular

But Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, blamed the lack of action on legislators' self-interest. "Elected officials tend not to want to restrict themselves," Dean said.

Entenza's financial disclosure statement illustrates how little the public can learn from such statements. He reported no compensation. He listed five mutual funds as the only securities in which he holds an interest; candidates must report securities worth at least $2,500. Entenza, who lives with his wife and children in St. Paul, lists ownership only in a Northfield house, where Quam's parents live. The state does not require candidates to disclose their own homes.

Drucker said the five mutual funds represent investments that Entenza holds alone or jointly with Quam. But Drucker acknowledged that Quam may separately own securities, real estate or other investments that need not be reported under the state disclosure law.

Other DFL gubernatorial candidates have offered more financial details than Entenza, either voluntarily or because another law required it.

DFL challenger Mark Dayton reported investments of $3.2 million to $12 million in 2006, when he was a U.S. senator, to comply with tougher federal disclosure laws. Last week Dayton and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and her husband voluntarily released 2009 income tax returns.

Entenza declined to release his tax returns, which, if filed jointly, would disclose Quam's income.

A former executive at a division of UnitedHealth Group, Quam sold $30.8 million of company stock between 2000 and 2006, according to Lancer Analytics.

After leaving UnitedHealth, Quam became alternative investments chief at Piper Jaffray. More recently she founded Tysvar, a privately held firm that fosters clean technology and health care companies. She announced last year that she was resigning as CEO to devote time to her husband's campaign and to "eliminate any potential conflicts of interest."

Quam has been a major donor to DFL causes, contributing at least $182,325 to campaigns and parties since 1998. Other DFL gubernatorial candidates said this year that Entenza had indicated he was willing to spend $6 million on his campaign in 2010. Entenza has not said how much might be family money.

He launched an expensive TV ad blitz earlier than any other candidate, starting immediately after the DFL convention in April. The commercials referenced what Entenza said were hard times during his childhood in California, before he moved in with a grandmother in southwestern Minnesota.

Drucker, Entenza's spokesman, said that releasing more detailed information about Entenza's family finances would have little value.

"Voters are concerned with how we're going to turn our education system around, how we're going to get people working again," Drucker said.

But Dean, of Common Cause, said such information should be available so voters can weigh its relevance. "It shouldn't be up to the candidates to decide what is a potential conflict and what is not," Dean said. "It's really up to the public to make these kinds of decisions."

Previous gubernatorial candidates have not voluntarily released detailed financial information, tax returns or spousal income.

Minnesota ranks low

Minnesota ranks 40th in candidate financial disclosure requirements, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., that gave Minnesota an "F" for transparency.

Twenty-two states require clear spousal investment information, the center reported. Minnesota is among 13 states with no spousal disclosure requirements.

Minnesota is one of only nine states that do not require disclosure of spousal employment.

The lack of spousal reporting is just one aspect of a weak candidate financial disclosure law, said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who has pushed over the years for candidate ethics reforms.

"Anytime you would try to tighten something up, the people who oppose it would say, 'Oh, we already have so much disclosure,'" Marty said. "It's a myth."

Kelliher's return revealed that her husband, David, director of public policy for the Minnesota Historical Society, earned most of the couple's $143,968 income. Dayton is unmarried and lives primarily off returns from a family trust fund.

Like Entenza, GOP-endorsed Tom Emmer and Independence Party endorsee Tom Horner declined to release their tax returns or detailed financial information.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210