he Minnesota Ethical Practices Board has filed a complaint in county district court against the Minnesota Gun Owners' Political Victory Fund for noncompliance with the state's law on disclosure by national political action committees (PACs), which aid the home-grown variety.
The Minnesota gun group's spokesman said today that the state law impinged on federal power and discriminated against PACs generally, and that he had asked the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union for help. Matthew Stark, executive director of the civil liberties group, said he was deciding whether to get involved.
The case involves the fund's refusal to meet strict disclosure requirements, not about itself but about others. The case stems from $4,950 it received from the National Rifle Association and $1,000 it got from the Gun Owners of America in 1980.
Under Minnesota law, a state PAC receiving more than $100 from a PAC outside Minnesota must furnish the ethics board, which enforces Minnesota's campaign contribution law, with detailed information about the out-of-state PAC. The information is similar to that requested from Minnesota political organizations. Refusal to disclose carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or a year in jail for PAC officials.
The case has partisan political implications. The gun owners' fund is spearheading a campaign against the gubernatorial candidacy of Democratic Attorney General Warren Spannaus, who in recent years has successfully promoted moderate gun control laws.
Ordinarily, Spannaus would have been responsible for prosecuting the gun group. But the attorney general's office formally withdrew last July during pretrial proceedings, citing Spannaus' conflict of interest. A lawyer in private practice has been retained as special counsel to represent the ethics board.
Mary Ann McCoy, the board's executive director, said this was the first time the board had to go to court to enforce the 8-year-old out-of-state PAC section. The gun group contends the state has no power to ask for more information than the Federal Election Commission does from national organizations and that, in any event, the state may not impose its authority in an area governed by federal law.
Jon Willand, the gun group's spokesman, said the Minnesota disclosure requirement is among the strictest in the country.