Minnesota campaign board’s proposal targets anonymous donors

Published 7:03 pm Thursday, January 3, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota campaign finance officials may push to require political groups to name donors who pay for issue advertisements that don’t directly advocate for or against a candidate or issue, which one supporter says would close the state’s biggest election disclosure loophole.

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will consider the proposed changes Thursday.

Unlike traditional campaign ads that clearly state a position and must disclose funding sources, issue ads discuss a candidate or issue without using language that explicitly urges a vote in a certain direction. The board began working on the proposal to change the law after seeing many ads that were intended to influence the election but didn’t have to disclose funding sources, said Jeff Sigurdson, the board’s executive director.

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“If something shows up shortly (before) or around the election, why would you send out a mailing talking either positively or negatively about a candidate?” Sigurdson said. “The question is what is this if not to try to influence the election of a candidate?”

George Beck, chairman of Clean Elections Minnesota, praised the board’s efforts to address what he says is the state’s biggest disclosure loophole.

“How can we judge the trustworthiness of the message if we can’t see who’s paying for it?” he said.

But the changes could make compliance more difficult and limit political speech, said Charlie Weaver, who leads the Minnesota Business Partnership. Broadening the law’s language could lead to the board having to make subjective decisions on ads, he said.

“Having a new proposal that’s subjective, it seems to me, is unwise. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you want clarity,” Weaver said. “No matter where you draw the line, it needs to be a bright line.”

If the board approves the proposal, Sigurdson would work with the Legislature to try and pass the changes.