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Not Criticizing Campaign Finance - Just Pointing Out the Dilemma

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 04/05/12 11:59

by Dave Mindeman

I need to clarify something about yesterday's post.

After rereading what I wrote, it might be assumed that I was being overly critical of the Campaign Finance Board itself. That is not the case.

What I am trying to point out is that Campaign Finance does the best job it can with the resources it is given. As more groups form for special interest politics (amendments) and more campaigns form for primaries and the general campaign, the CFB gets deluged with a multitude of reports that just can't be fully examined given the nature of how these reports are filed.

I posted yesterday's example of the storage fees from Senator Gerlach's report....I got an e-mail today from Campaign Finance noting that they had also looked at that entry and had called the Gerlach campaign to verify where that came from. I appreciate that kind of effort and it shows that they are doing their best at the oversight they are assigned.

CFB needs more resources. That's a simple fact. The legislature doesn't particularly feel the need to fund what amounts to a watchdog over their behavior, but to keep things fair and honest, it is a critical function of government.

Fairness, transparency, and oversight. These are the keys to elections we can trust. Instead of wasting time and resources on "voter integrity"..a.k.a. -the Voter ID amendment, maybe we should be giving more focus to Campaign Finance.

While we are on the topic, there is another area of reporting that should have more oversight....and again, only additional resources for CFB can help to extend this oversight. This area is reimbursement and salary payment for family members or friends in a campaign. Granted, family members do take on jobs that the campaign needs to have performed. And legitimate expenses need to be reimbursed for numerous campaign tasks. However, when these reimbursements end up being thousands of dollars, questions need to be asked.

Quite frankly, the legislature should issues guidelines for a more structured oversight of this area. Maybe limit salaries paid to relatives. Require more detailed receipts. Have campaign positions defined better.

I realize that what I am suggesting would simply put more burdens on an overworked agency, but I think they do look into this when numbers get unusual...it is just that these are areas difficult to define.

Minnesota has tried very hard to keep elections properly monitored and do what it can to limit campaign cash flow. This is going to be more and more of a problem as the Citizens United ruling filters into state campaign law.

There will come a time when we have to make decisions on how much scrutiny we are willing to give to the relationship of money in politics. Pulling back on oversight means money wins and the idea of citizen legislators will be gone forever.

We need to fully support our Campaign Finance system. And that means that citizens will have to make that case. Legislators aren't going to commit to giving teeth to their own watchdog.

CFB is doing the best it can with the investments we have so far been willing to give.
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