A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Minnesota Campaign Finance Laws See First Test of 2012

Just last week, Common Cause Minnesota, filed a complaint with the MN Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFDB) alleging that the Republican Party of Minnesota circumvented campaign finance laws during the 2010 recount for the gubernatorial election. The head of the party at the time, Tony Sutton, allowed the creation of a shell corporation called Count Them All Properly, Inc. in order to hide $700,000 in legal fees related to the recount. By funneling money through this corporation, the debt was left off the Republican Party’s books. Furthermore, donors to the corporation did not have to be disclosed, leaving a cloud of doubt surrounding the funding of these operations. Although these allegations are just that, merely allegations, the CFDB has launched a full investigations into the claims made by Common Cause.

This incident not only underscores the shady dealings of politicians in Minnesota, but also draws attention to the need to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and further remove money from politics. Since the Citizens United decision, corporations have been given the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money towards the election or defeat of a candidate. It is illegal for corporations to contribute directly to a candidate or political party. However, by creating this shell entity, corporations may have essentially been allowed to indirectly contribute unlimited funds to the Republican Party.

Upon its ruling, it was immediately apparent that the Citizens United decision would lead to incidents like this, albeit the full scope was not necessarily realized. With the November elections upon us, the role of money in politics is becoming increasingly apparent; just last week, Sheldon Anderson contributed $5 million to a Newt Gingrich “Super PAC”, a move that was legalized by the Citizens United decision.

This is an issue that plagues both major political parties. As parties right here in our own state are hiding their solicited unlimited donations, and presidential candidates are receiving unlimited support from corporations and wealthy donors, it has become quite obvious that the voices of citizens are no longer the leading role in the election of candidates who are supposed to be representatives of the people. No, now the voices of corporations and those at the top have taken the spotlight; it’s no wonder so many public policy decisions are made in the interest of corporations and big business and not the general public.

As such, MPIRG supports any endeavor to limit money in politics, including ending “Pay to Play” politics, requiring disclosure of contributions, and a full reversal of the Citizens United decision. Until then we need to implement a strong public campaign financing system in the state of Minnesota. We must remove the power of big corporations and wealthy individuals to have so much influence on who gets elected in our state and our country. We must restore the ability of average citizens to fairly choose who represents them, without the influence of special interests.

Written by Tom Raley, MPIRG Campus Organizer

photo courtesy of MPR

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