Final Victory Against Restrictive Minnesota Campaign Finance Law

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · May 26, 2015

St. Paul, Minn.—In a major victory for public participation in elections, Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill last Friday that repeals Minnesota’s “special sources limit.” Under the previous law, the first 12 individuals who contributed to a candidate were able to contribute twice as much as subsequent donors.

The repeal followed a May 2014 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank who found the law to likely be unconstitutional and banned the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board and Public Disclosure Board from enforcing the law. That victory was part of a lawsuit by the Institute for Justice and a coalition of donors and legislative candidates, which sought to overturn the law and allow individual contributors to donate to all campaigns for Minnesota state office.

For example, before Gov. Dayton signed S.F. 205, if a candidate for State House received 12 contributions of $1,000, the 13th contributor (and all subsequent contributors) could give no more than $500. As a result, early contributors had a greater ability to support the candidate of their choice than those who contributed later.

“The government should not be using campaign finance laws to play favorites,” said Anthony Sanders, an IJ attorney and lead counsel in the case. “In 2014, for the first time in over two decades, Minnesotans who want to support political candidates enjoyed the same rights, no matter when in the election cycle they made their contribution. Thanks to the governor’s signature that change is now permanent.”

An analysis done by IJ of the final campaign finance reports for Minnesota’s 2014 election found that IJ’s victory suspending the law benefited candidates in half of all legislative and statewide races, and those campaigns raised more funds to use to speak to voters.

“First Amendment rights should not be dished out on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Meagan Forbes, an IJ attorney in the case. “Furthermore, like many laws passed for the sake of campaign finance ‘reform,’ this law was so complicated that almost no one understood it, even candidates for office.”

Van Carlson of Circle Pines, Minn., was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. In the past he had been unable to contribute funds to his own legislator, State Rep. Linda Rundbeck, who was also a plaintiff, because of the special sources limit. “I am very glad that the legislature and governor have removed this arbitrary limit on who gets to support candidates of their choice,” said Carlson. “How much I want to contribute should not depend on how much my neighbor already has contributed.”