Elections and campaign finance bills draw bipartisan support

The Minnesota House and Senate appear to have met Gov. Dayton’s demand that any changes to election law and campaign finance law have broad bipartisan support.

A conference committee on campaign finance approved a measure that would increase the contribution and spending limits for the governor and constitutional officers and candidates for the Minnesota House and Senate. The proposal would increase the contribution limits to candidates for governor from $4,000 a year in election years and from $500 to $2,000 in non-election years. Individual contributions to state lawmakers would increase from $600 to $1,000 over two years.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says increasing the contribution limits would give candidates a greater voice in political campaigns that have seen a growing number of outside groups spending money on races.

“Candidates have very little ability to have conversations and direct a message to voters,” Winkler said. “They’re being drowned out by third parties. By raising the spending limits for legislative candidates, we’re hoping to give them a greater voice in their own election.”

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was a member of the conference committee and said a large number of Republicans will vote for the bill. The conference committee dropped a plan that would have required outside groups that are sending out materials around Election Day to disclose their spending. Republicans objected to that measure.

The conference committee on elections also approved a measure that would lower the threshold that triggers automatic recounts. Automatic recounts for statewide office would be triggered if the election is decided by less than one quarter 1 percent of the total number of votes cast. Current law triggers recounts at less than one half of 1 percent of the vote.

The bill would also change how many voters an individual could vouch for at the polls. Current law allows individuals to declare that up to 15 people are residents of specific precincts. The bill would lower the number to eight.

Republicans say they are likely to back the bill.

“I think we have some members of our caucus who don’t think we need election law changes right now so there still may be some no votes,” Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine said. “But for the most part these are some pretty good provisions and should deserve bipartisan support.”

The bill would also allow people to vote absentee without offering an excuse.