Op-ed pick: Free speech, if you’re first

Minnesota’s campaign finance laws include “an obviously arbitrary, notably complex and certainly unconstitutional restriction,” according to nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will.

Will is referring to the so-called “special sources limit” that cuts in half the maximum individual contribution to candidates who have already received donations of a certain size from other contributors. In a case brought by the libertarian Institute for Justice, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ordered the state this week to stop enforcing the law. The institute said the law “dishes out First Amendment rights on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Will wrote that state Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, was unfairly constrained by the law:

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Once she has received $12,500 in contributions of between $500 and $1,000, the $1,000 contribution limit is cut in half: All subsequent contributors can give a maximum of $500. When a contributor gives more, Runbeck must return the money or contact the giver and ask if it can be divided as two contributions coming from the giver and his or her spouse.

Van Carlson is one of Runbeck’s constituents. He is only moderately affluent, but he wants to be able to give at least the permissible $1,000 to legislative candidates. If, however, 12 others have already given $1,000 to one of them, he can give only $500 to that candidate. As the institute’s [Anthony] Sanders says, “No other state restricts what ordinary people can give to candidates because of what other ordinary people have already given.”

Will points out that Minnesota’s law, like many other campaign finance laws, is designed to give the advantage to politicians already holding office.

Class solidarity unites incumbent politicians of all stripes, and all the laws that ever have regulated campaigns, or ever will regulate them, have had or will have one thing in common: They have been, or will be, written by incumbent legislators. This is why such laws are presumptively disreputable and usually unconstitutional.

Read the rest of Will’s column here.