Minnesota mailboxes will likely continue to be flooded with campaign flyers, many of them negative, that don’t disclose who paid for them because of what Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) calls “campaign finance law loopholes.”
“The public deserves to know if you’re on their side or only care about the people who bought your election,” Winkler said, introducing his campaign finance disclosure provision that he said requires disclosure of “who is paying when you are trying to get somebody in office or out of office.”
After a tense late night debate, the Minnesota House rejected Winkler’s proposal on a 51-78 party line vote.
Republicans, who hold the majority in the House, blocked Winkler’s bill from being heard in committee and blocked it several times from being added as an amendment to other bills. Friday night was the first time it received substantial debate this session.
Winkler seemed almost surprised when no point of order was raised when he offered his amendment to the omnibus state government finance bill. He then proceeded to quiz various Republican members about letters they had forwarded to other lawmakers from special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association and Minnesota Concerned Citizens For Life warning that his bill is unconstitutional and prevented free speech.
Winkler Questions Republicans
Winkler asked Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) several times about the letter she forwarded from the MCCL. “I believe every money, all the money should be disclosed,” said Theis. However, she said the issue should first be heard by the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee “so all monies are up for grabs.”
Winker said he looked forward to that, but noted the only hearing that committee had held on any legislation like this “has occurred because of a provision of the rules that gave them little choice but to do it other than to bring it to the floor for a vote.”
In an unusual move, Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) refused to answer Winkler’s question about the letter he had sent lawmakers that came from the NRA.
Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said Winkler’s amendment would lead to retribution against groups that funded political speech. Winkler replied, “That’s not persecution, that’s the First Amendment.”
Rep. Jim Knobloch (R-St. Cloud) asked if Winkler’s amendment was so important, why it hadn’t passed last session when the DFL controlled the House. Winkler replied that special interests had conspired to defeat it then, too, which drew some laughs from the House floor. Winkler said it shows that money in politics is not a partisan issue, but a bipartisan problem.
Knobloch, who voted against the amendment, had complained bitterly last Fall when outside groups made his race the most expensive in the Minnesota legislature. “It really is irritating to have in some ways your campaign taken away from you by people sending all this stuff into your district that you would never send yourself,” said Knoblach during his final debate with Rep. Zachary Dorholt in their hotly contested race.