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Editorial: Nolan flap shows need for reform

As scandalous as the allegation first seemed, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was able to quickly answer it Wednesday. And easily refute it. And in doing so, whether he intended to or not, the congressman contributed to a growing nationwide call for campaign-finance reform.

The allegation was that Nolan and his 2012 campaign circumvented contribution limits set by federal law because campaign workers’ salaries were paid for by the DFL party. Citing financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Zenith City Weekly reported campaign workers were paid tens of thousands of dollars by the DFL in what should have been considered an in-kind donation. The limit for such a donation, by law, is $5,000 per campaign for political parties.

But, as Nolan explained in an exclusive interview Wednesday with the News Tribune editorial board, “Those were people working on what’s called the ‘coordinated campaign,’ and that is not in violation of federal law. That’s what political parties do; they work for their candidates. If people are working under a ‘coordinated campaign,’ … the DFL (is) allowed to do that as long as (those employees) are working for all the candidates in the party.”

Nolan is comfortable he didn’t violate any campaign laws because he hired three financial-compliance experts to make sure after they were recommended by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Then, after the vote, he had a professional audit done.

“Not in response to any allegation or anything, just for my own edification,” he said. “And we found some mistakes that were made. On occasion they recorded a check when it was written rather than when it was received. On occasion they recorded a bill when it was paid as opposed to when it occurred. And then I filed an amended return to make the corrections.”

Even if technically compliant with the letter of the law – and that’s on the Federal Election Commission to confirm – isn’t using a “coordinated campaign” just a sneaky way for political parties to funnel more cash to candidates than the law allows?

“You’re probably right on that,” Nolan said. “And then they also have independent campaign funds and committees. … It’s a pretty common practice throughout the state and throughout the country. …

Even if it is “common practice” – and no doubt common for candidates of both parties – it has to rub voters wrong, as a way around rules that should apply equally to everyone and that are in place to keep campaigns – and elected offices – from being overrun by the powerful and well-funded.

On his Facebook page Wednesday, on the four-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, Nolan blasted the decision for many of these very same reasons and concerns. So there are two more good reasons for campaign-finance reform in the U.S. and for doing all we can to ensure voters are the ones with the strongest say in every election.


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