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Republicans aim to erase campaign spending laws

ST. PAUL  — Republicans are moving to erase Minnesota’s public campaign subsidies, which could reshape the fundraising fight in next year’s gubernatorial election and unleash more money into statewide and local elections.

Passed in 1974 as part of an anti-corruption wave triggered by President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Minnesota’s subsidy has become ingrained in state elections. With all 201 legislative seats up for grabs last year, nearly nine of every 10 candidates agreed to limit their total campaign spending. In return, they shared in $2.2 million in public funding.

In 2014, when both Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson accepted subsidies, that public money accounted for more than 20 percent of the $4.5 million spent on the race.

But Republicans say the program is little more than welfare for politicians — and typically helps Democrats more. Democrats argue ending the subsidy will hurt less affluent candidates, and increase the influence of outside groups.

“There has been lots of pressure to try to weaken those laws,” said Democratic Sen. John Marty, a longtime advocate for campaign finance reform. “They have had great success assaulting the laws here and other states, largely through the courts.”