Several months ago, when I was first considering running for City Council, I approached the city and asked how to get a copy of the campaign finance reports from previous campaigns. I wanted to understand how much money is typically spent on municipal elections in Crystal, and I also know that campaign finance reports can often tell an interesting story about who is funding campaigns.
Campaign finance reports for state, county and federal elections are available online, and have been for years. I was surprised that the same was not true at the city level. Instead of quick online access to the data I was asked to fill out a data request form and then either pay 25 cents per page to get a copy of the data, or schedule a meeting with the city clerk to inspect the data.
It didn’t make sense to me that the data for the elected officials that are closest to the citizens would be so difficult to obtain, considering how easy it is to get at every other level of government.
I reviewed the city code and noticed that it allowed for the online posting of campaign finance reports, if the city council directed the city clerk to do so. I was told that nobody had ever asked about this provision. So I did.
I worked with the city manager, Mayor Jim Adams, and councilmember Casey Peak to get the request pushed through, and Crystal will now be posting campaign finance reports online beginning this year. The measure did have some opposition from councilmember John Budziszewski.
The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to require all cities with a website to post their campaign finance reports online. I was interviewed for a Star Tribune story on that initiative. You can find that story here. The measure has broad bipartisan support, and Governor Dayton has indicated that he will sign it if it passes. I think this is a good thing.
Ultimately I would like to see local candidates use the same campaign finance system that state candidates use. The infrastructure is already in place, and it should be easy enough to add local races to the existing system. But for now, I am happy that citizens will be able to more easily get information about local elections online.