February 4, 2023
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Regulators push for more financial transparency in Minnesota politics

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Spouses of public officials in Minnesota, unlike many other states, do not publicly report their financial interests.

That would change if legislators follow the direction of the state’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which made numerous recommendations on Thursday largely aimed at improving transparency in money and government.

The six-member board also proposed regulating cryptocurrency donations to campaigns and expanding public reporting on lobbying and on ads that don’t expressly advocate for a candidate but can influence votes.

But whether any of the recommendations will become law is up to state leaders, who return to the Capitol in January. In many cases, this isn’t the board’s first attempt to persuade legislators to make the changes.

The board first suggested years ago that Minnesota set rules on cryptocurrency donations to political campaigns.

“The volatility of cryptocurrency is what we’re concerned about,” board Executive Director Jeff Sigurdson said of the proposal that would require campaigns to convert such donations to cash within five days.

The board also began recommending in 2018 that legislators change the law to require public officials to include their spouses’ financial holdings when they file their economic interest statements. Sigurdson said that bill stalled in the Legislature after debate about whether to disclose domestic partners’ finances as well, which the board said should also be reported.

“Presumably those [spouses] are close enough, or the domestic partners are close enough, that if one person is holding a bunch of investments in 3M and then later the official has to vote on something 3M-related, say, then you would want to know about that as a potential conflict,” Board Chair Faris Rashid said.

Roughly half of states have some disclosure requirements for spouses, according to records from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Minnesota is not among them, apart from a long-standing requirement to list family members’ horse racing investments.

Another board recommendation would make local and state public officials list any contracts, licenses, leases, franchises or permits that state entities granted to them — or to a business they have an ownership interest in of 25% or more.

One perennially proposed change, which Sigurdson predicts legislators will once again consider, would show who is behind some election messaging.

When a group spends money on advertisements, it generally does not have to publicly disclose where the cash came from if the ad avoids certain words, such as “vote for” or “elect” or “defeat.” The board suggested altering that to require public reporting when the communication doesn’t use the so-called “magic words” but is intended to influence votes.

“We are moving toward a standard that is going to result in more complaints and put us in a position of having to gauge what people are thinking when they put a communication out,” said board member David Asp, who cast the lone vote against the recommendation.



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