Minnesota Campaign Speech Limits
Regulation Dishes Out First Amendment Rights on a First-Come, First-Served Basis
The government could not pass a law saying that only the first 12 people to vote in an election get to vote for every office, or that only the first 12 people who arrive at church get to stay for the entire sermon. But that is exactly what Minnesota law does when it comes to contributions for state political candidates.
Minnesota, like many states and the federal government, limits the amount of money any one person can donate to a candidate. For example, Minnesota limits the amount one may contribute to a candidate for the State House at $1,000. But once a candidate raises $12,500 in contributions between $500 and $1,000, that limit is arbitrarily cut in half. That means that if a candidate for State House accepts contributions of $1,000 from 12 different people, the thirteenth donor, and everyone after, may only contribute $500 or less.
Contributing to candidates for political office is a well-recognized First Amendment right and a right that the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the recent McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) decision. That right is not dished out on a first-come, first-served basis. Minnesota’s arbitrary system, called the “special sources limit,” violates the free speech rights of both donors and candidates.
That’s why two donors, Doug Seaton and Van Carlson, and two candidates, State Representative Linda Runbeck and Scott Dutcher, are fighting back. They have joined with the Institute for Justice—the national law firm for liberty—in a federal lawsuit to strike down Minnesota’s special sources limit and to restore the fundamental constitutional principle of equal treatment under the law. Their lawsuit will be among the first opportunities for a federal court to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon to a state campaign finance law.
A victory in this case will allow individual contributors to donate to all campaigns for Minnesota state office, free from the special sources limit.