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Whose name is it anyway?

Posted at 5:05 PM on March 25, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Sometimes it only takes a glance at a bill to guess that there's a doozie of a backstory behind why it's been proposed. HF4039, authored by Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) and SF3681, its companion in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-North St. Paul), is that kind of bill.

It would ban the use of deceptive names of candidates, political committees and political funds. Here's one reason why:

In spring 2007, a political committee called the Maplewood Voters Coalition
formed and registered with the appropriate body - the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. They conducted a candidate forum, sent out newspaper inserts, endorsed candidates and set up a web site to keep people updated on what they were doing.

Last September, someone not affiliated with the Maplewood Voters Coalition registered that same name through the Secretary of State's office and then told the original group to stop using the name. During that fall election season, campaign mail from an unknown source, attributed to the Maplewood Voters Coalition, was sent to residents misrepresenting who the group supported, and urging residents to remove lawn signs for people they had in fact endorsed.

Other shady mailings were sent out during the election, including one accusing John Nephew, a candidate for City Council the group endorsed, of marketing "violent and dark games to young people", according to a story in the Star Tribune.

Here's one of the postcards mailed out.

Stephan Flister, a member of the MVC, says his group never sent any direct mail to anyone during the campaign cycle.

"The reason for the legislation is to make it possible for groups like ours to defend themselves and their names," Flister said. "There are no new regulations or costs, but [the law] would make this behavior illegal in a way it wasn't before."

Under the new law, deceptive naming would be classified an unfair campaign practice, and complaints filed would be sent to the state's Office of Administrative Hearings, where other campaign issues are resolved, sometimes within 24 hours of a violation.

Interesting stuff to keep an eye on.