Campaign regulatory board stymied by Legislature

Updated 12:25 p.m.

Minnesota’s campaign finance regulatory board heads into election season with its slimmest possible board membership for taking action after the Legislature failed to confirm two appointees before adjourning its session.

Two appointments before lawmakers got hung up over concerns raised by Senate Republicans about the DFL political background of Emma Greenman. Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board appointments require confirmation from the House and Senate on a three-fifths vote; the House supplied sufficient votes to confirm Greenman and former Republican state Rep. Margaret “Peggy” Leppik during the session’s final day.

Board chairman Christian Sande said Friday that it could be August before the board is back to full strength. That’s because of the legal steps Gov. Mark Dayton must take to fill the slots, by which time election contests will be in full swing and campaign finance complaints will be streaming in.

“It means for the board to take any action the votes have to be unanimous,” Sande said. “I don’t know that it handicaps us. But it certainly does indicate that where in the past with six active members of the board it might be easier to arrive at four votes to achieve something.”

Absence of a single member would deprive the board of the quorum it needs to even meet.

The remaining members would have to be in complete agreement to impose any penalties, issue any advisory opinions or take other substantive action because state law requires four votes in favor when the typically six-member board makes decisions.

Campaign finance board appointments always have come with more political sensitivity and scrutiny than most agencies. In fact, state law dictates a specific political makeup and that some members be former lawmakers.

Greenman and Leppik had been serving on the board pending confirmation but their appointments were considered null when the Legislature adjourned without positive votes.

A Dayton spokesman says the governor plans to resubmit their names once the openings are posted, which would allow them to serve again until the Legislature returns next year and takes another look. It’s not clear when that could happen.

Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson said he and his Republican colleagues weren’t willing to confirm Greenman because of past and present political activity.

“Is this someone who would be able to set aside partisan politics and render judgment as to violations of campaign finance laws? We really doubted it,” Newman said in a phone interview. “We were very concerned about it because of the degree of involvement in political partisanship.”

He added, “This is not a personal attack on her. It is simply a realization of her past activities. She was a very politically active person.”

Greenman, a 36-year-old Minneapolis lawyer, is director of voting rights and democracy for the Center for Popular Democracy. Past stints include work for the Wellstone Action organization formed after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone and for a Minnesota unit of the Service Employees International Union. In her appointment materials, she lists her political affiliation as with the DFL.

Greenman didn’t immediately return a call or email inquiring about her intentions moving forward said in an email Friday that the lack of a vote was disappointing. She said she is considering reapplying and has been encouraged to do so.

“I have had the pleasure of of serving on the board since January and believe it plays an important role in supporting and protecting Minnesota’s democracy,” she wrote.

In a packet compiled in connection with her earlier appointment, Greenman disclosed details about her past political involvement and her present job, which she said posed no conflict with a campaign board role and didn’t encompass campaign finance matters.

“At this point in my career I am able to serve on the board without any direct conflicts of interest. I do not work for any candidates or any political campaign committees. I do not currently represent the Minnesota DFL or any party official or political candidate,” she wrote in a November letter to Dayton seeking the appointment.