Minnesota Campaign Speech Limits

Seaton v. Wiener
Minnesota Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law
Regulation Dishes Out First Amendment Rights on a First-Come, First-Served Basis

mn-campaign-speech-launch-graphic md

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The government could not pass a law saying that only the first 12 people to vote in an election get to vote for every office, or that only the first 12 people who arrive at church get to stay for the entire sermon. But that is exactly what Minnesota law did when it comes to contributions for state political candidates.

Minnesota, like many states and the federal government, limits the amount of money any one person can donate to a candidate. For example, Minnesota limits the amount one may contribute to a candidate for the State House at $1,000. But until IJ filed this case, once a candidate raised $12,500 in contributions between $500 and $1,000, that limit was arbitrarily cut in half. That means that if a candidate for State House accepted contributions of $1,000 from 12 different people, the thirteenth donor, and everyone after, could only contribute $500 or less.

Contributing to candidates for political office is a well-recognized First Amendment right and a right that the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the recent McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) decision. That right is not dished out on a first-come, first-served basis. Minnesota’s arbitrary system, called the “special sources limit,” violated the free speech rights of both donors and candidates.

That’s why two donors, Doug Seaton and Van Carlson, and two candidates, State Representative Linda Runbeck and Scott Dutcher, fought back. They joined with the Institute for Justice—the national law firm for liberty—in a federal lawsuit to strike down Minnesota’s special sources limit and to restore the fundamental constitutional principle of equal treatment under the law. Their lawsuit was among the first opportunities for a federal court to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon to a state campaign finance law.

After the case was filed, IJ quickly secured a preliminary injunction preventing the law’s enforcement. Later, the Minnesota Legislature repealed the law, giving all Minnesotans a victory for free speech.


Essential Background

Audio, Video and Images

Backgrounder: Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law

Video: Gov't to Citizens: Want Free Speech? Take a number.
Latest Release: Final Victory Against Restrictive Minnesota Campaign Finance Law (May 26, 2015)  Client Photos

Launch Release: Minnesota Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law (April 9, 2014)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Ruling on a Preliminary Injunction (May 19, 2014)

Reply Brief Supporting TRO-PI (April 25, 2014)

Brief for TRO (April 11, 2014)

Complaint (April 9, 2014)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


April 9, 2014

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota



 Current Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota


After obtaining victory on their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction the Minnesota Legislature repealed the provision that was challenged.
  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Analysis: Free Speech Wins in Minn. 2014 Election Season (February 24, 2015)



Chart: Reduced Limit on Individual Contributions After Candidate Reaches Special Sources Limit

Release: Federal Judge Orders Minnesota to Stop Enforcing Restrictive Campaign Finance Law (May 19, 2014)

Media Advisory: Minnesota Campaign Finance Law Challenged by Donors, Candidates (April 9, 2014)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Repeal Of Minnesota Campaign Giving Law Renders Lawsuit Moot Associated Press (May 27, 2015)
Op-Ed: State campaign finance laws are on borrowed time: George Will The Washington Post (May 21, 2014)
Article: Federal court: Minnesota must lift limit on political donations StarTribune (May 20, 2014)
Article: Judge suspends campaign cash limits Minnesota Public Radio (May 19, 2014)
Article: Minnesota campaign donor restriction blocked by federal judge TwinCities.com Pioneer Press (May 19, 2014)
Article: A challenge to Minnesota's 'special' campaign-contribution rule TwinCities.com (May 17, 2014)
Article: Lawsuit targets Minn. campaign giving limits Miami Herald (April 9, 2014)
Article: Minnesota's campaign finance limits challenged TwinCities.com (April 9, 2014)

Article: Group sues to overturn Minnesota campaign finance law MPR News (April 9, 2014)

Article: Minnesota's limits on campaign donations to be challenged Star Tribune (April 8, 2014)

Opinion: Minnesota campaign finance law's dirty use of a dozen Star Tribune (April 8, 2014)

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