Charter Commission recommends smaller fee increase for political candidates

Want to run for office in Minneapolis? You might soon have to break the piggy bank.

A proposal to increase the filing fees from the same $20 charge they have been for decades moved forward on Wednesday, as the City Charter Commission recommended an increase to the City Council.

The fees, under the Charter Commission’s recommendations, would increase to $250 for mayoral candidates, $100 for City Council candidates and $50 for Park Board candidates. That recommendation is scaled back from City Council Member Cam Gordon’s original proposal to increase them to $500 and $250 and $50, respectively.

The fees have not been adjusted for nearly 50 years, said Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl. St. Paul raised its fees in 2011.

In an entertaining speech, Charter Commission Member Dan Cohen talked about how perennial mayoral candidate Dick Franson, who has never come close to winning, might not have been able to run if the fees had been increased $500.

 “We need people like Dick Franson to run for office. They may not be likely to win, but they serve a very useful purpose,” Cohen said. “They help kind of regulate and push against the overreaching of major party candidates and it’s just possible that one day they might catch lightning in a bottle and capture the public imagination and win an election.”

Commissioner Natonia Johnson took issue with the language of the fee increase, which stated, “the single ballot put in front of voters during a municipal general election needs to be a ‘serious ballot’ – eliminating, to the degree possible, frivolous candidates.”

“This is a democracy, and people should be able to run, regardless if you have a ballot of 50 people,” Johnson said. “That’s what democracy is all about.”

Commissioner Todd Ferrara, who is co-owner of a heating and air conditioning business, said it cost more for him to get a permit to install a furnace than it would be to run for office.

“The fee is, I think, a minor consideration for somebody who is running for official office at our city,” said Commissioner Todd Ferrara.

The Charter Commission voted 5 to 3 to pass the fee increase, with Johnson, Devin Rice and Richard Gerdes voting against. Cohen had to leave the meeting early.

The City Council must pass the fee increase unanimously. If approved, it would take affect before 2013 mayoral and council candidates file for office this summer.

Mayoral candidate Mark Andrew quickly blasted the proposal in a press release.

“Money cannot determine who can and cannot run for public office,” Andrew said in the press release. “More voices create a stronger debate and stronger leaders.”