The state's upcoming ballot question on definition of marriage prompts finance board to reconsider keeping donor names secret.

-By Eric Roper

June 14, 2011- As activists prepare for what is expected to be one of the costliest amendment campaigns in recent history, state campaign finance officials are rethinking guidelines on how donations are disclosed.

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board met Tuesday to hear arguments on whether it should revoke a 14-year-old opinion that allows corporations to make donations to ballot campaigns without revealing their own donors.

A change could have a major impact on the role national heavyweight nonprofits like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Organization for Marriage play in Minnesota over the next 17 months. The two sides are gearing up over a 2012 ballot question that would ask voters to legally define marriage in the state Constitution as being between a man and woman. It would solidify an existing legal ban on same-sex marriage.

For-profit corporations like Target may not experience much change, however, because they rely on business revenue rather than donors.

Amendment supporters said that requiring disclosure could scare off potential donors.

Tom Prichard, president of the nonprofit Minnesota Family Council, said that donors could be subject to "physical violence, economic threats or harassment, property damage" if their names are disclosed. "Forcing organizations like ours to make their donors public would have a chilling effect on political speech [and] free speech," Prichard said.

Opponents of the amendment did not testify at Tuesday's hearing, but are watching the matter closely. Donald McFarland, who leads the coalition opposing the measure, said his organization has no official position. "Everyone's watching and waiting for the advice," McFarland said.

The state already requires a higher level of disclosure from groups that donate money to sway the election of a candidate.

But Josiah Neeley, an Indiana-based attorney representing the coalition supporting the amendment, testified that the two situations should not be viewed equally.

"You can't corrupt a ballot question," Neeley said. "It's not a person, it's a legislative measure."



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