A $500 mayoral filing fee? Make it a million dollars.

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July 15, 2014 // UPDATED 10:19 am - July 16, 2014
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Hey Minneapolis voter! When marking your ballot for Governor and U.S. Senator this November, you’ll have to make another choice — whether to raise filing fees for Minneapolis city offices.

Today, you only need to plunk down $20 to run for mayor, City Council, Park Board, or Board of Estimate. After some back-and-forth with the Minneapolis City Council, the city’s appointed Charter Commission decided to ask you to raise the mayoral fee to $500; $250 for City Council; and $100 for the two boards.

Coming a year after a 35-candidate mayor’s race, advocates of open government are crying foul. They say raising the mayor’s fee 2,500 percent is nothing more than a way to keep grassroots candidates out and bigger-bucks Democrats in. Sure, we had a 2013 ballot swollen by those who merely had to roll out of bed and plunk down two sawbucks at filing deadline, but they argue that logistical headaches for forum organizers, journalists and ranked-choice-voting advocates is a small price for democracy.

Me? I wish they would raise every city office filing fee to a million dollars.

The problem with the filing fee argument is that it focuses on fees. Ignored is the other way of getting on the ballot — the true grassroots way, unaltered by November’s vote.

Candidates simply need to find enough voters to sign a petition, and they’re on the ballot — for free.

A million-dollar filing fee would force every campaign (except the ridiculously spendthrift — how high are you willing to go, Dan Cohen?) to persuade a voter subset before the rest of us are forced to spend any time considering it.

But wait, you cry! Surely the DFL or the Illuminati or Journalist Conspiracy To Prevent Election Profiles of People Who Only Want Their YouTube Videos To Go Viral have made this petitioning thing a high bar — thousands of signatures, maybe?

Nay, concerned citizen; Minnesota law has your back. No local office can require more than 500 petition signatures. And in districts with fewer than 10,000 voters, the cap is lower — just 5 percent of total votes cast in the previous election.

In 2017, only one ward (Linea Palmisano’s Ward 13) will require 500 signatures. You’ll need just 253 signatures to challenge Ward 6 Council member Abdi Warsame; 330 to challenge Ward 7’s Lisa Goodman; 304 to challenge Ward 8’s Elizabeth Glidden; 297 to challenge Ward 10’s Lisa Bender; 390 to challenge Ward 11’s John Quincy.

(All the park districts — except Jon Olson’s north Minneapolis seat — would require 500 signatures, as would Board of Estimate races.)

If a plucky grassroots candidate can’t get 250–500 eligible voters (not even registered voters!), they won’t do the sweat-equity organizing a credible low-buck candidacy requires. And make no mistake: these are low-buck candidacies — more than half of 2013’s mayoral herd didn’t raise $100.

While a million-dollar filing fee would — amazingly — be legal in Minnesota, the Charter Commission was willing to go as low as $250 for mayor, and $100 for Council. It was a compromise to get unanimous City Council support that would’ve made the fees law. However, Council members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang voted no. The commission then voted 10–5 to send the $500/$250 schedule — equal to St. Paul’s — to you.

“Make no mistake,” says Charter Commission chair Barry Clegg. “Everybody here supported substantially higher fees; it was just that five people wanted to stick with the compromise.”

As a million-dollar supporter, I can argue $500 represents a compromise. But in truth, it should be an irrelevancy. Shoe leather over leather wallets, candidates. 

David Brauer, a former Journal editor, lives in Kingfield with his wife and two kids.