Minnesota Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 8, 2014

St. Paul, Minn.—Can the government dish out rights on a first-come, first-served basis?

That is the question to be answered by a major constitutional lawsuit filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota by two Minnesota donors, two candidates for state office and the Institute for Justice.

Doug Seaton and Van Carlson are two Minnesotans who believe the best way to support candidates for the Minnesota State House is to donate to those candidates so they can mount effective campaigns. If they strongly support a candidate, they sometimes contribute the maximum amount of $1,000.

But in a State House election, Minnesota’s “special sources limit” says that only the first 12 donors to a campaign can contribute the maximum amount of $1,000—all future donors can only donate $500 or less. As a result, some of Seaton and Carlson’s contributions have been rejected because they were not among the first 12 people to donate.

In today’s lawsuit, Seaton and Carlson will challenge the special sources limit and present one of the first opportunities for a federal court to apply the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) to a state campaign finance law.

A victory in this case will allow individual contributors to donate to all campaigns for Minnesota state office, free from the special sources limit.


“The government can’t say that only the first 12 people to arrive at the polls on Election Day get to vote for every office, while everyone else gets to vote for only half of the offices,” said IJ Attorney Anthony Sanders, lead counsel in today’s lawsuit. “Likewise, the government can’t say that only the first 12 people in line get to contribute $1,000 to a candidate, while everyone else only gets to contribute half that. In this country, rights aren’t distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.”

The special sources limit has important consequences for Minnesota candidates. Without money, candidates cannot get their messages out to voters. That is why the special sources limit harms Linda Runbeck and Scott Dutcher, two candidates who have run for state office and are also participating in the lawsuit. Since Runbeck and Dutcher can only accept $1,000 contributions from 12 people when they run for office, they have fewer resources than they otherwise might have to connect with voters.

“The law is supposed to treat everyone equally,” said IJ Attorney Katelynn McBride. “But Minnesota plays favorites by allowing some people to donate twice as much to a candidate as other people. That’s not just bad policy, that’s unconstitutional.”

For more information on today’s lawsuit, visit www.ij.org/MN-special-sources-limit. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.