Minnesota Campaign Speech Limits

Seaton v. Wiener
Minnesota Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law
Regulation Dishes Out First Amendment Rights on a First-Come, First-Served Basis

mn-campaign-speech-launch-graphic md

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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.


Essential Background

Audio, Video and Images

Backgrounder: Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law

Video: Gov't to Citizens: Want Free Speech? Take a number.
Latest Release: Final Victory Against Restrictive Minnesota Campaign Finance Law (May 26, 2015)  Client Photos

Launch Release: Minnesota Donors, Candidates Sue to Overturn Restrictive Campaign Finance Law (April 9, 2014)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Ruling on a Preliminary Injunction (May 19, 2014)

Reply Brief Supporting TRO-PI (April 25, 2014)

Brief for TRO (April 11, 2014)

Complaint (April 9, 2014)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


April 9, 2014

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota



None available

 Current Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota


Plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction granted (May 19, 2014)
  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Analysis: Free Speech Wins in Minn. 2014 Election Season (February 24, 2015)



Chart: Reduced Limit on Individual Contributions After Candidate Reaches Special Sources Limit

Release: Federal Judge Orders Minnesota to Stop Enforcing Restrictive Campaign Finance Law (May 19, 2014)

Media Advisory: Minnesota Campaign Finance Law Challenged by Donors, Candidates (April 9, 2014)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Repeal Of Minnesota Campaign Giving Law Renders Lawsuit Moot Associated Press (May 27, 2015)
Op-Ed: State campaign finance laws are on borrowed time: George Will The Washington Post (May 21, 2014)
Article: Federal court: Minnesota must lift limit on political donations StarTribune (May 20, 2014)
Article: Judge suspends campaign cash limits Minnesota Public Radio (May 19, 2014)
Article: Minnesota campaign donor restriction blocked by federal judge TwinCities.com Pioneer Press (May 19, 2014)
Article: A challenge to Minnesota's 'special' campaign-contribution rule TwinCities.com (May 17, 2014)
Article: Lawsuit targets Minn. campaign giving limits Miami Herald (April 9, 2014)
Article: Minnesota's campaign finance limits challenged TwinCities.com (April 9, 2014)

Article: Group sues to overturn Minnesota campaign finance law MPR News (April 9, 2014)

Article: Minnesota's limits on campaign donations to be challenged Star Tribune (April 8, 2014)

Opinion: Minnesota campaign finance law's dirty use of a dozen Star Tribune (April 8, 2014)

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