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Minnesota campaign finance law under attack

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on a case to be heard in federal court on 21 October:

A major challenge to Minnesota's campaign finance laws, including an effort to relax restrictions on how much candidates can receive from lobbyists and large donors, is expected to be heard soon in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

The multifaceted lawsuit, filed by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), also seeks to undo a ban on the transfer of funds between campaign committees. The MCCL, which opposes abortion, long has been one of the state's more powerful interest groups.

Attorney General Mike Hatch, who will be defending the current law, says the suit is the "biggest assault on Minnesota's campaign finance law" since the last big overhaul in 1993. And he says it represents a significant undermining of the state's ability to control the power of interest groups, lobbyists and wealthy contributors.

But the lead MCCL attorney said that similar challenges by his law firm in other states have succeeded and that courts have tended to view many state restrictions on issues-advocacy groups as an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

"We have won dozens of these cases around the United States," said James Bopp Jr., an Indiana attorney for the MCCL. He said the laws in question actually represent efforts "by incumbents to drive people out of participating in democracy. . . . Almost any regulation of elections benefits incumbents." Bopp represents the firm of Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom and the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Terre Haute, Ind.

Here are some of the provisions under attack:

Among the more significant of seven provisions being challenged is a ban on the transfer of money from one candidate's campaign to another's.

Another key provision under challenge is a law that restricts candidates from collecting more than 20 percent of their combined contributions from lobbyists, political action committees or in gifts of more than $250.

... Bopp said the suit attempts to remove a requirement that advocacy groups provide extensive disclosure of their contributors who give more than $500. Some supporters are reluctant to contribute because of that disclosure requirement, he contends, and the result is a chilling effect on citizen involvement.