Disclosure rules apply, Campaign Finance Board says

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board put finishing touches today on rules affecting campaign disclosure for ballot initiatives, and caught flak from supporters of an amendment to define marriage.

In June, the Campaign Finance Board voted that disclosure rules do apply to groups that make large donations to ballot campaigns. The board's decision requires groups that give at least $5,000 to a ballot measure to name those people who contributed $1,000 or more.

Today, the board approved definitions and guidance to support that decision, which has implications for a constitutional amendment on next year's ballot defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Even before today's meeting got underway, the National Organization for Marriage distributed a press release to say the board was "acting illegally in attempting to force NOM and other pro-family nonprofit organizations to disclose the names of donors."

Cleta Mitchell
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing the National Organization for Marriage, said the Campaign Finance Board "muddied the waters" in its interpretation of disclosure rules on ballot activity.
MPR Photo/ Sasha Aslanian

NOM attorney Cleta Mitchell said the board's action was confusing and had no basis in statute.

"I think the intent is to limit the scope of NOM's involvement and to essentially rattle some sabers by the government, saying to this citizen's organization, people who support your organization, might inadvertently trigger disclosure of their support of NOM," Mitchell said.

NOM's individual donors fear reprisal if their names are disclosed Mitchell said.

The board took no testimony Tuesday, but Common Cause Minnesota's Executive Director Mike Dean submitted a letter to ask the board to allow more time for public consideration of the guidelines. Dean was dissatisfied with the board's guidance because he felt it left loopholes, and he rejects NOM's argument that the rules are confusing.

"The confusion that exists largely because of groups like NOM, who continue to try to find loopholes and cracks in system," Dean said. "I'd love to have very simple system, but unfortunately, the groups that are out there constantly try to push the envelop, and constantly try to exploit those loopholes." Dean said the board's direction is consistent with the Minnesota legislature's overhaul of campaign finance laws in 2010, and Citizens United, a Supreme Court case that allows corporate money to flow while disclosing the source of the money.

The first financial reports from ballot groups are due in January.