The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 19, 2011

Our View: Disclosure is best on ballot questions

— Full disclosure or not full disclosure? That is the question that Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board decided this month, frustrating groups pushing for a ban on gay marriage in the Minnesota Constitution but pleasing groups that favor openness.

The board came down firmly on the side of transparency when it finalized reporting guidelines for private donations to ballot measure campaigns. The decision was the correct one, regardless of what one might feel about the ban on gay marriage issue favored by conservatives.

In the run-up to the ruling, arguments for or against full disclosure were waged on distinct lines. The National Organization for Marriage, which supports the gay marriage amendment, said requiring donations from private groups to be disclosed can discourage donors from participating. Why? Because many donators are afraid to be identified publicly.

We don’t doubt that may be true in respect to same-sex marriage initiatives, where the political sympathies often get personal. But the other side of the argument proves more persuasive.

For one, disclosure is a valuable tool for helping the public make informed decisions during an election, enabling voters to weigh the merits of the messages based on their source. Knowing the source of donators helps the public consider their credibility. If the majority of donations trickle in from outside the state, for instance, the public has a right to know.

Full disclosure also prevents the possibility of special interests attempting to hide their true identities. Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board was obviously well aware of such disguising of donations going on in other states, with other ballot measures, and decided to call for light rather than darkness.

In doing so, the board chose to take its mission seriously. Its primary goal — to promote public confidence — falls right in line with its decision on full disclosure. Only with the full light of transparency can the public understand the political motivations behind the initiatives, thereby allowing the public the full arsenal of tools with which to make the most informed decisions in the voting booth.

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