Minnesota Chamber sues over campaign disclosure law

Published 6:11 pm Monday, July 3, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Dana Ferguson

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is suing over a new election law set to take effect next year, alleging it would chill businesses’ free speech if allowed to take effect.

The organization took issue with provisions in a broader election law that bar companies with foreign influenced ownership from making political contributions. And the group filed a lawsuit in federal court last week attempting to block Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and members of the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board from enforcing the policy.

Email newsletter signup

Under the law, companies would face legal penalties if they make independent expenditures or contribute to ballot question committees and have foreign ownership thresholds that meet or exceed state limits (1 percent for a single foreign owner or 5 percent for overall foreign national owners).

But that could be difficult to gauge at any given time, the group said. And as a result, most Minnesota corporations could avoid making contributions so they don’t run afoul of the law, they said.

“We strongly believe this law is an unconstitutional impingement on the free speech rights of members of the Minnesota business community,” Chamber President and CEO Doug Loon said in a statement Monday. “We look forward to restoring their ability — as ‘people’ in the eyes of the law — to participate in the democratic process.

Attorneys representing the Chamber also said the law was at odds with federal election law and should be enjoined so as to not supersede or preempt those policies.

DFL lawmakers at the Capitol approved what they called the “Democracy for the People Act” this year as part of a broader effort to expand access to the ballot and boost transparency in elections. They said the law would limit out-of-state influence in Minnesota politics.

And following news of the legal challenge, they said the move was predictable.

“We knew that there was power in this legislation,” bill author Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said. “The reason why it’s important is we want to make sure that Minnesotans with their votes, voices and actions can steer our future.”

Murphy and House author Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, said they were confident that the law would hold up in court.

“This is a pretty maximalist read, it goes way beyond Citizens United,” said Greenman, who works as an elections lawyer. “They’re trying to expand the First Amendment protections now beyond domestic corporations to any corporate spending, even if it’s foreign-influenced, and that that would be a change in law. And there’ll be a big step back from where Citizens United and the court has been.”

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board didn’t issue a comment on the lawsuit Monday and said the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office would be tasked with defending the law in court.

Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement said his office had not yet reviewed the complaint but he said he would “review it and vigorously defend Minnesota’s law that advances transparency and accountability in elections.”