Minnesota U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled that voters have “an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate on the eve on an election” and refused to strike down the Minnesota campaign finance law that requires a corporation to disclose when it spends money to support or defeat a candidate. It was as a result of that law that the Target and Best Buy contributions to the conservative pac MN Forward and its support of gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer first came to light.
According to the law, a corporation may donate its own money to an existing independent expenditure committee or fund without providing any information beyond its name and address. If the business solicits and receives contributions beyond its general treasury revenue, it must disclose the source of the contributions.
Three groups–Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota and Coastal Travel Enterprises challenged the law, arguing that in infringed on their speech rights. They sought an injunction in hopes of not having to comply with the reporting requirements in the upcoming November 2 election.
But the Court disagreed, holding that it was unlikely they could prove that disclosing their identity in campaign spending would hamper their right to free speech. To the contrary, said Judge Frank, the law serves “an important government interest” in transparency. That transparency “assures that the electorate will be able to make informed decisions and properly evaluate the speakers and their messages.”
The state’s attorney general agreed. In a statement issued in connection with the decision Attorney General Lori Swanson said that “[a]n informed electorate is the cornerstone of our democracy” noting that the decision “lets average voters know who is financing elections in Minnesota.”
In many ways Minnesota could be a model for national election disclosure laws which would go a long way to at least shed some light in the wake of the Citizens United disaster. The Senate tried to get a similar measure passed this year, but Republicans blocked the measure.
photo courtesy of Tracy O via Flickr