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No more political contribution refund

Published (2/18/2011)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Calling the political contribution refund program “an illegitimate function of government,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) said its repeal would save the state approximately $12 million per biennium.

He sponsors HF66 that would eliminate the program, which was suspended by 2010 legislation, but is scheduled to be reinstated on July 1, 2011.

The bill was approved Feb. 15 by the House Taxes Committee and sent to the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

Debate on the bill quickly moved from General Fund savings to campaign financing and the role the refund program plays in capping spending limits.

Under the program, contributions to a Minnesota political party or candidates qualified for a state-paid refund of up to $50 a year for individuals or $100 for a married couple. Only contributions to candidates who signed an agreement with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to observe state campaign spending limits qualified for the refund.

“A side benefit of this is that it will put the challengers on stronger footing with the incumbents, I guess it could be argued,” Drazkowski said. “But it is certainly not my motivation for the bill. We need to solve the deficit. … The question here is about priorities. Do we provide cash for politicians or nursing homes?”

Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) argued that the legitimate role of government is to provide for free and open government. The political contributions allow for those without financial means to run for office. She said that without the program, there would no longer be campaign spending limits.

Gary Goldsmith, the campaign finance board’s executive director, said that when the refund program was not in place during the last election there wasn’t a significant drop in the public subsidy program.

He said, however, that the public subsidy, as a concept, does act as a campaign spending cap.

“There would be no spending limits because there would be no incentive for people to sign those agreements and then any candidate would be able to spend as much as they want on their elections,” he said.

The Senate companion, SF190, sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Taxes Committee.

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