The state government bill that passed through the legislature before session-end included a measure to suspend Minnesota’s Political Contribution Refund (PCR) program. The $10 million program allows individuals to be reimbursed (up to $50 per year,) by the state for political contributions to candidates or political party units.
Per numbers compiled via the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board website, Republican legislative candidates took in $510,352 from the program and DFL legislative candidates $339,494 in 2013. Gubernatorial and other state-wide office candidates took in even more. The leader by a long-shot was a Republican, former Speaker Kurt Zellers, who received $113,749 during his run Governor in 2013. At the party level, the GOP took in approximately $900,000 and the DFL approximately $515,000, in 2013. (Election-year numbers from 2014 were not available.)
The direct public-subsidy program, which is funded by a checkoff box on state income tax returns, remains intact. Republicans had also sought to eliminate the subsidies as they divert dollars away from the General fund as the dollars do not come out of the tax filer’s return, but the state coffers.
Democrats benefit more from that program than Republicans. (click image for detail) 85% of the candidates who ran for state-level office took the subsidy in 2014.
Rep Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazzepa, has been the driving force behind the changes this session along with Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, chair of the state government finance committee. Drazkowski has benefited from the PCR program in the past, but still calls it a “political welfare.”
The Star Tribune editorial board recently chastised Republicans for making the change calling the PCR program “ingenious” and claiming it limits the influence of special interest groups. However, they ceased to recognize that Minnesota ranks fourth in the country for lobbyist dollars spent at the State Capitol per a recent report in the Washington Post. (click image below for detail)
Minnesota is one of only fourteen states that offers direct candidate financing with public dollars and one of only five states that offer it for legislative races. Governor Pawlenty had eliminated but the PCR and public subsidy programs during his time in office, but they were reinstated in 2013 when the DFL-controlled the Capitol. Governor Dayton has stated support for the PCR and could veto the larger bill to preserve it. He’s already targeted the state government finance bill for a measure contained within it which would give counties the ability to hire private auditing firms, rather than pay more through the state auditor’s office. Don’t be surprised if the taxpayer-funded PCR program– which will fund next year’s political campaigns– is back.