Kudos to U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank. Despite his personal disagreement with the Supreme Court’s application of the First Amendment to strike down campaign finance laws, Judge Frank honored precedent. Earlier this month, he ruled in favor of those challenging a Minnesota law that unconstitutionally limited campaign contributions based on the timing of when individuals contributed to political candidates.
Although the Institute for Justice, which represented the challengers, won a court battle, it won neither the heart nor the mind of Judge Frank. His judicial integrity notwithstanding, Judge Frank’s personal belief (explicitly expressed in his ruling) that the U.S. Supreme Court direction on campaign finance cases is damaging to the “integrity of public institutions” is no cause for celebration among those who understand campaign finance restrictions are, in law and practice, arbitrary limits on political speech and contrary to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Minnesota, like many states and the federal government, limits the amount any one person can donate to a candidate during a campaign. In Minnesota, these limits vary depending on the political office. (Ironically, the more influence an office has, the more one can contribute.) Unlike other states, however, Minnesota also has a separate, unique statute that arbitrarily can cut those limits in half.
The “special sources” limit for a Minnesota House candidate, for example, is $12,500 in contributions of $500 to $1,000 dollars. Once the $12,500 limit is reached, all future donors may only contribute up to $500. So, if 12 individuals contribute the maximum $1,000 to a campaign, the 13th donor (and each successive donor) is limited to a maximum $500 contribution, thus halving their free speech and political participation.
Doug Seaton of Edina and Van Carlson of Circle Pines are two Minnesotans whose campaign contributions were rejected because the candidates they supported had reached the special sources limit. Seaton and Carlson, along with State Rep. Linda Runbeck and candidate for the state house Scott Dutcher, each of whom were forced to return campaign contributions, have teamed with the Institute for Justice to challenge Minnesota’s special sources limit in federal court.