Campaign disclosure bill advances at Capitol

(AP) On the heels of reports that showed a flood of late and substantial campaign spending in Minnesota politics last year, a bill requiring more timely disclosure of big donations is marching through the Legislature.

The House committee that oversees elections on Thursday approved a measure that would require candidates, political parties and interest groups to tell regulators within 24 hours when they get large checks close to an election.

Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, said his goal is to make it "harder for people to hide large contributions before an election."

The measure now awaits votes on the House and Senate floors.

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Currently, only candidates are required to give notice when they get donations after the final detailed reports are filed. For gubernatorial candidates, checks of $2,000 must be reported within 48 hours; for legislative candidates it's anything above $400.

The bills would lower the threshold that triggers reporting for statewide candidates to $800. It would also rope in political parties, caucuses and interest groups and require reports of donations of $1,000 or more.

Notice of the big donations would have to be made to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board in person, by fax or by other electronic means. That cuts out the ability to send the late-donation reports through the mail.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said the bill is partly a response to the interest-group involvement in the race for governor.

"If we had not seen such a dramatic increase in the influence of the last-minute money, this might not have come up on the radar," Rest said.

One group, A Stronger America-Minnesota, was formed barely two weeks before the election but managed to spend more than $700,000 on ads, phone calls and mailings attacking Democratic candidate Mike Hatch. The sources of nearly all of the group's donations weren't made public until after the election.

An Associated Press review of campaign reports filed this week found that political parties and interest groups combined to spend more on unsolicited ads and materials in the governor's race than Republican Tim Pawlenty and Hatch combined. The so-called independent expenditures tied to the race topped $7 million.

Mike Franklin of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce told the House committee that the business group supports the increased disclosure.

"When you're participating in elections, we like to know who's paying for what and as soon as possible," Franklin said.

No one testified against the bill. The Senate could vote on the bill as soon as next week.