Ramsey County District Court File No. C9017166
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Harten, Judge; and
Multicandidate political-party expenditures on behalf of three or more candidates for public office that primarily benefit a single candidate shall not be proportionately allocated on a reasonable cost basis to each candidate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge
Appellant State of Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (the board) brought a declaratory judgment action against respondent Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the DFL). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the DFL, concluding that the DFL properly reported that expenditures for certain mailings were multicandidate expenditures on behalf of three or more candidates. The district court also awarded attorney fees to the DFL under the Minnesota Equal Access to Justice Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 15.471-.474 (2000). In these consolidated appeals, the board contends that (1) because a major portion of the multicandidate expenditure supported a single candidate, the multicandidate expenditure must be allocated to each candidate in proportion to the benefit received and (2) the award of attorney fees is unwarranted because the board's position is substantially justified. Because the plain meaning of Minn. Stat. § 10A.275 (1998) prohibits multicandidate expenditures from being allocated to individual candidates and because the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the board's position was not substantially justified in light of the plain meaning of the relevant statutory provisions, we affirm.
The DFL created two pieces of campaign literature for mailings during the 1998 campaign season. One piece contained an official party sample ballot listing Gail Skare for House of Representatives, "Skip" Humphrey for Governor, Roger Moe for Lieutenant Governor, Mike Hatch for Attorney General, and three other candidates for the respective political offices they sought. The sample ballot contained pictures of Skare, Humphrey, and Hatch, and highlighted voting for Skare on the side with the ballot and mailing address. The other side of the campaign literature depicted a child on a swing with the caption, "Gail Skare Committed to Our Kids."
The second piece of campaign literature sought financial contributions on behalf of Skare, Humphrey, and Hatch, and highlighted Skare's positions on health care. On both pieces of campaign literature, more space was given to Skare's candidacy than to that of the other candidates.
Prior to releasing the mailings, counsel for the DFL sent a letter to the board requesting an advisory opinion as to what would qualify as a sample ballot. The board issued advisory opinion 302 on August 28, 1998, which states, in summary, that only the portion of the campaign literature outlining the sample ballot qualifies for exemption from allocation as a multicandidate expenditure and the balance of the literature focusing on other candidates would be treated as an expenditure for an individual candidate. On February 1, 1999, in response to questions from the DFL as to what qualifies as a fundraising effort on behalf of three or more candidates, the board stated in advisory opinion 305 that material not clearly focused on multicandidate fundraising efforts but included in the multicandidate fundraising materials "may be recognized separately from the multicandidate expenditure."
Prior to the 1998 election, the DFL distributed the two pieces of campaign materials and subsequently reported the expenses as multicandidate expenditures. On March 15, 2000, Steve Sviggum filed with the board a complaint on behalf of the House Republican Campaign Committee, alleging that the DFL sample ballot and fundraising materials cost more to produce and distribute than the DFL reported.*fn1 As a result of investigating the complaint, the board concluded that each campaign item had a portion that qualified as an exempt multicandidate expenditure under Minn. Stat. § 10A.275 (1998) and a portion that was not exempt. The board ordered the DFL to amend its 1998 report of receipts and expenditures to apportion costs associated with the two mailings "as in kind contributions to the Skare Committee." The DFL declined to do so.
The board initiated a declaratory judgment action in district court. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on stipulated facts. The district court granted the DFL's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case, concluding that (1) Minn. Stat. § 10A.275, which governs multicandidate political-party expenditures, "is unambiguous and not subject to interpretation by the Board" and (2) the DFL's report of expenditures complied with the statute.
The DFL moved for attorney fees and costs under the Minnesota Equal Access to Justice Act and was awarded attorney fees of $24,456 and costs of $630. The board appealed the summary judgment while the fee motion was pending in district court and later appealed ...