Students rally for bill calling for clean and fair elections

MPIRG organized the rally for the bill that would help fund candidates who don’t take money from special interests.

by Stephanie Kudrle

Students gathered at the Capitol on Friday to support fair and clean elections in Minnesota.

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a student-led organization that lobbies for public issues, organized the event. The purpose was to bring awareness to a new bill that would help fund candidates who don’t accept money from special interest groups.

House and Senate members were at the event to describe the bill’s impact on Minnesota elections. Some legislators said the bill would cost taxpayers too much.

The bill states that candidates would have to raise money among their constituents before being eligible to receive funding.

The fund would be set up by putting an extra 1 percent surcharge on all civil lawsuit judgments.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill would encourage citizens to participate in elections without having them compete with special interest groups.

He said special interest groups unfairly influence politicians by donating money to their campaigns.

“We need to stand up to special interest groups,” Davnie said. “The public deserves to have their voice heard.”

But House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said the bill is expensive and cannot be funded this year.

“I’m all for fair and clean elections,” Sviggum said, “but we don’t have the money. We can’t reduce spending to the ‘U’ to fund this bill.”

He said taxpayers already fund campaigns and shouldn’t be expected to contribute more.

Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, has been trying to get the bill passed for five years. He said the bill would enhance democracy by closing the door to lobbyists.

“Raising money has become an addiction for politicians,” he said. “Minnesota has to have a better balance.”

Hottinger said it is important that public interest groups such as MPIRG support the bill.

“It’s encouraging to see young people get involved,” he said.

MPIRG consists of students on nine campuses in Minnesota, MPIRG member and University junior Shaun Laden said.

Two weeks ago, the group participated in the University’s Lobby Day to bring the fair and clean elections bill to legislators, he said.

“I think this issue – dirty money and politics – is taking away from Minnesota’s democracy,” Laden said. “It’s great to see people engaged and concerned about democracy.”

University senior Jackie Hartwig didn’t know much about the bill until becoming more involved with MPIRG.

“The more I learned about it, the more I learned that our current system is corrupt,” Hartwig said.

She said more students should get involved in politics.

“A lot of people are discouraged and don’t vote because they think it’s pointless,” she said. “Students need to have a stronger voice.”

Senior Missy Golke changed her major to political science after becoming involved with the program.

“I like the mission MPIRG is advocating,” she said. “It’s a great way to get involved in politics.”