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DFL Sen. John Marty has been fighting for financial transparency in government since many of his legislative colleagues were toddlers.

Back in the mid-1990s, the senator from Roseville pushed a gift ban through a reluctant Legislature. There was no more free lunch and some still groan about it. Nearly three decades later, Marty's got a list of financial disclosure changes he'd like to see.

Last session, Marty successfully closed some disclosure loopholes as part of a larger elections bill. They were provisions he'd been seeking for years. "I'm just thrilled it finally made it through," he said.

For one, Marty managed to change the law to require public officials to disclose if they receive more than $250 for work as a consultant or lobbyist for a lobbyist, lobbyist principal or interested person.

"I don't know if this was a well-known loophole or not. I wasn't going to advertise it," Marty said. "Did nobody know about it or did some use it? I have no way of knowing."

To illustrate the situation, Marty used the example of trying to build a new stadium. If a senator were an employee or consultant to the team trying to pass a stadium bill, the lawmaker would have to disclose that in the annual statement of economic interest.

But under the old law, Marty wouldn't have to disclose if he (improbably) worked as a consultant for a stadium lobbyist. "They can't give me lunch, but they could hire me as a contractor and give me $100,000," Marty said, explaining how the law used to work.

A detailed explanation of the disclosure requirement can be found at the bottom of page two of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board's statement of economic interest form for public officials.

Another change Marty got through last year requires spouses of public officials to disclose their economic interests. Previously, only officials had to disclose their holdings.

The new public disclosure forms, however, don't look much different because the spouses don't file separately. The 2023 law "provides that the economic interest statement must not identify whether the official or the official's spouse is associated with or owns the listed item," according to the campaign finance board's summary.

Board Executive Director Jeff Sigurdson said his panel sought the change. "The important goal was to get a complete listing of potential conflicts of interest that may occur for the public official for public review," he said. "That goal could be achieved without identifying financial interests of the spouse separate from the public official."

The Legislature also made changes to lobbyist disclosure. The old law required them to report spending rounded to the nearest $20,000. The new law requires them to report it rounded to the nearest $9,000.

Under consideration this session is a move to lower the threshold to $5,000. If Marty had his way, they'd disclose exactly what they spent. "Why do we need rounding at all?" he asked.

Hamline University Prof. David Schultz, former executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, has studied and worked on ethics laws for decades and said Minnesota used to be a leader on disclosure, but not anymore. "We sat on our laurels for 30 years," he said.

The national nonprofit Center for Public Integrity gave Minnesota a D-minus in its most recent assessment. The state ranked 28th across a number of categories.

Schultz said the recent changes are a start. "I'm glad I'm seeing what they're doing here, but they're playing catch-up," he said.

Wisconsin, for example, requires much more detailed reporting by lobbyists of specific bills they're working on and which public officials they contact. They also have to detail exactly what they spend and file reports twice a year.

Schultz said disclosure should be expanded to include not just spouses, but other family members.

Marty has more ideas and laments that he's been unable to get them passed. For example, current law forbids lobbyists from giving gifts or benefits to public officials. But they can contribute —and not report — to their campaigns, provided the contribution is less than $200.

"If you're a lobbyist and you give me $500, it's disclosed," Marty said. "If you give me $200, it's not."

He would like to bar lobbyists and political action committees from contributing anything. "I can't get that at all," he said. "So at least let's make it so they have to disclose them."