Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Campaign Finance Reform for City Elections

I have been concerned about Campaign Finance Reform for many years. I raised it as an issue in the 2005 campaign. I have a number of concerns about how money is raised for City elections and I see several ways in which the process could be inproved.

Some of my most pressing concerns have to do with how little reporting is required today. Let me just share a few details.

No information about any individual contribution must be reported unless the contribution is over $100, or a person gives over $100 in a year. The legal limit allowed during non-election years is $100. That means no contributor information must be reported during the 3 nonelection years. Over three years, therefore, one person (or Political Action Committee) can give $300 that goes unreported. A couple can give $600. This campaign finance information is not made avaiable to the public.

I am convinced that we are all better off if we have better access to information and know who is funding campaigns.

With this in mind, several months ago I decided to begin working on an initiative to close this loophole in our Campaign Finance reporting system. I am hopeful that some new regulations could be put in place before this upcoiming election cycle.

I found a Council ally in Paul Ostrow, and began working with the City Attorney's office to explore some options for reform. Specifically, I asked about reducing the contribution size that must be reported from $100 to $25, increasing the number of reports required and possibly prohibiting contributions from lobbyists and from people who have “business” pending before the city.

The answer I got from the Attorney's Office was that we don’t have the authority to do any of those things by resolution, ordinance amendment or charter change. The issue of prohibiting contributions from lobbyists and people who have “business” pending before the city (which I try to do on a voluntary basis now) raised serious questions about conflict with federal constitutional law. Any changes to the reporting requirements were prohibited by state statute.

With this information in hand, I decided to focus on the reporting issues for now, and leave the other concerns on the back burner.

In order to get the authority to lower the minimum contribution size that must be reported and increase the frequency of the reports, we will have to change state law. A first step in doing that is to put this on the City's legislative agenda, enabling us to devote staff time and energy to this issue.

The Council is now in the process of setting our legislative agenda for next year. CM Ostrow and I will be proposing supporting amendments to the MN Statutes, Section 383B.058, to allow the City to increase the frequency for filing campaign reports and lower the reporting level of campaign contributions. We hope to present our case on December 9th to the Intergovernmental Regulations Committee. At this point we are not going to attempt to change any of the rules and regulations for this next cycle because clearly it is too late, but we would like to change them for subsequent elections.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas.


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