Court Lets Minn. Corporate Disclosure Law Stand

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has affirmed a judge’s decision to let stand Minnesota’s law requiring the disclosure of corporate political donations, saying the state’s rules are similar to laws upheld by the Supreme Court and the groups who want them blocked are unlikely to prevail.

In an opinion filed Monday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with claims that Minnesota’s disclosure requirements effectively prohibit corporate independent expenditures and impose burdensome regulations that ban free speech.

“The burden on corporations appears light, and the reporting requirement greatly facilitates the government’s informational interest in monitoring corporate independent expenditures,” the appeals court found. The judges wrote that rather than banning contributions, the law provides a way to disclose certain information.

Minnesota law requires that in election years, businesses and independent groups must submit five reports and disclose large donations within 24 hours for the three weeks leading up to the primary and the last two weeks before the general election. In off years, one report is required. The registration requirement is triggered when businesses or independent funds spend more than $100. Penalties for violations can be up to $25,000.

One member of the three-judge panel disagreed with the majority in part, saying the state’s reporting requirements chill political speech.

“The provisions manifestly discourage corporations, particularly corporations with limited resources, from engaging in protected political speech, and hinder their participation in the political debate and their access to the citizenry and the government,” Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote. “Under Minnesota’s scheme, a corporation is compelled to decide whether exercising its constitutional right is worth the time and expense of entering a long-term or even perpetual morass of regulatory red tape. Some corporations will decide the exercise is simply not worth the trouble.”

James Bopp Jr., an attorney for the various groups seeking to block the disclosure requirements, said he was surprised and disappointed in the appeals court opinion and will recommend an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minnesota’s law was enacted last May after a Supreme Court ruling freed businesses to spend company money on elections. That overturned restrictions on corporate political spending in about half the states, including Minnesota. State lawmakers responded by enacting disclosure requirements so that corporate campaign spending would be public.

The law gained national attention last year after Minneapolis-based Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a business-oriented political fund supporting gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. The donation seemed to conflict with the company’s gay-friendly reputation.

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and a travel agency filed a lawsuit asking a judge to overturn the law, saying the reporting requirements were so burdensome that they amounted to a ban on free speech. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank disagreed, and the appeals court upheld his decision.

“The ruling is good for citizens and shareholders because it says people have a right to know about corporate financing of elections,” Attorney General Lori Swanson said in an e-mailed statement Monday.

Common Cause Minnesota, a government watchdog group, called the appeals court decision a huge victory because it protects the public’s right to know when special interest groups spend money on campaigns. Mike Dean, the organization’s executive director, said the ruling is a blow to special interest groups who “can no longer operate in the shadows.”

Bopp, though, said the Supreme Court already made it clear that a corporation making independent expenditures could not be required to form a political action committee, “but that’s what the Minnesota law does.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the state is still banning corporate independent expenditures because corporations can only contribute to political funds, which are separate entities, instead of directly to campaigns. But the appeals court wrote that under state law, a corporation does not need to be a separate association from a political fund it sets up, and it can have full control of operating the fund.

Unlike PACs, a corporation can contribute an unlimited amount to its political fund, and the fund can use these contributions to make expenditures, the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said that collectively, Minnesota’s rules on corporate independent expenditures are less burdensome than federal regulations on PACs, with fewer reporting requirements.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • MNTP

    Typical liberal judicial activism. This ruling is unConstitutional and must be overturned!

    • stace34

      How is this judicail actvism? This is in line with a law that is on the books, There is presidence to back up the decission. That is how the law works. That is how laws and decissions are made. The Supereme Court has upheld this type of law. They are not being activist they are being judges. Ruling differently would have been judicial activism. Would you have been upset with that? Or is the activism just bad when you don’t agree with the decission?

  • BJ

    MNTP – The Eighth Circuit is the most Republican U.S. Court of Appeals in the nation.

    Generally considered the most conservative bench in the nation.

    • MNTP

      And they still didn’t get it right. We need recall for Federal judges if they do not serve the will of the people.

      • stace34

        My will is that I should be able to see who is donating to my candiates and I should be able to see where companies donate so I can make a decission of if I want to do business with them. So they did serve teh will of the people. They just didn’t serve your will.

      • M B

        What are you talking about, seriously? That corporations should NOT have to report to The People who they donate to? What the judge said and the following appeals court agreed was that they had to disclose political contributions made.

        Corporations are not people, they’re an entity run by a rich minority, not by democratic process of the masses. Letting them influence government defeats the democratic process.

        Unless that’s what you want… You don’t stand for that, do you?

      • WHAT?????

        Don’t pay any attention to MNTP, he is an idiot that posts on ever story and is always ranting about something with no proof or real ideas. I am starting to believe he does it because this is the only form of contact that he has with the outside world. Crazy is just crazy plain and simple, you cannot argue with it or try to fix it. I am surprised he didn’t say anything about atheists this time as that and liberals seem to be his favorite things to cry about. I am so glad that he does not have any kind of influence on the laws that we have because this would be like Germany in WWII if he had his way.

        • M B

          On more examination, he seems more like an Internet Troll, or just Troll for short.
          Trolls deliberately make inflammatory comments in hopes of stirring up people so that his/her existence is justified in whatever shadowy corner of their brain needs validation. Sadly, there are quite a few of this type of person on the internet.

          Amongst those of us who have used the internet for a long time we have a saying, “Don’t feed the Trolls.” Ignore them and they will go away. That’s what I will do for this person from here on out.

  • Daniel Bliss

    It is as it should be. I won’t even read an opinion piece in the paper without knowing whose piece it is. The right to free speech shouldn’t include a right to be anonymous. That’s for the voting booth.


    MNTP is typical con servative garbage.

  • Yelp

    Guess we wil now see how Republicans are bought and paid for by large corporations…

    • JR

      Exactly. These teabagging idiots just declare that anything they and their ilk don’t like is “unconstitutional” and any judge who disagrees with them needs to be recalled or impeached. Oh yeah, and there’s a black man in the White House. He’s probably Kenyan and is a Muslim to boot! Whoo – its boogiemen all over the place!

  • Victim Du Jour

    Media Corporations are the only corporations allowed to have free speech from how I see it.

    The GOP is always up against fascist media Corporations pretending they have a monopoly on public opinion.

    Most political contributions go to the media for TV Ads, and perfectly scripted debates.

    If you want to get money out of politics is make it a public event at State Fairs like the old days, and all public broadcasters must show the debates live, without any comments or people telling you what to think.

    Make it illegal for media corporations to profit from our election process.

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