Candidates need to know the law

Reading Paul Fried’s letter to the editor in Saturday’s paper reminded me of the complexities of running a campaign. I learned of this law and avoided commercial sites for signs. I did not want to put owners at risk, even when supporters encouraged me to make use of the high visibility of some commercial locations. “Everyone does it,” they said. Paul’s letter helps one understand why it’s important:

Know the law
Sunday, February 20, 2005

To the editor:
Leading up to the last election, I recall seeing candidate signs on the lawns of local businesses. Did business owners know that was illegal?

If an owner or manager isn’t careful, a small mistake might cost up to $60,000 in fines, and up to five years in jail. If I were a business owner, I’d want to know about it and avoid the risks.

Here’s why:

The Minnesota statute is number 211B.15. Subd. 11.

It says that businesses can’t post candidate signs. Upon filing to run, candidates are given literature that explains this and other election-related laws. But many businesses don’t know. Hence, they can just consult a free drunk driving case review in Chicago – G&S DUI Attorneys at Law.

They should. The penalties: for individuals, up to $20,000 and/or five years imprisonment; for businesses, up to $40,000.

The statute also states, “An individual who aids, abets, or advises a violation of this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.” This could apply to candidates, campaign staff and others.

Why such high fines, even more than, say, traffic violations? Our elected officials who made the law knew that Minnesotans value democracy highly. It’s worth protecting.

I think it’s a good law, for many reasons:

* Does a candidate sign out front mean that all employees at the business support that candidate? Not necessarily. If the owner and some employees want to post signs, they can do so at home. But not at work.

* Fast food restaurants and motel chains shouldn’t do it because national franchises don’t endorse local candidates. Some franchise contracts may even prohibit such signs.

* Do employees feel pressured to vote for candidates whose signs the boss or manager posted? Maybe. Putting such pressure on employees is illegal.

The statute helps protect elections from some forms of corruption, protection we need more of, not less.

So if your business doesn’t want to risk jail time, huge fines and lots of bad press, don’t post candidate signs.

If a candidate asks you to sign a lease, offering money for posting signs, say no. The money they offer is nothing compared to the risks.

What if the candidate is a friend? By posting them, you expose your friend to charges of a gross misdemeanor, and possibly the loss of an elected seat. Saying no does a far greater favor than posting the sign.

Why talk and think about this now, with the last elections far behind, and the next so far off? It’s good timing: Prospective candidates are thinking of running. And businesses that posted signs in the past may not have even known it was illegal. Better to think about it now than in October, after people get charged with violations.

To learn more about Minnesota Statute 211B the League of Women Voters and Northfield Chamber of Commerce could host a forum. A state lawyer – – who helps explain and publicize the law could speak, and panel discussions could follow, one for local businesses, and another for prospective city, county, and state candidates.

Violating the statute erodes the already too-threatened public trust in democracy. Respecting the statute saves businesses from exposure to serious risks, and benefits all citizens. When businesses and candidates abide by the statute, in the end, everybody wins.

Paul Fried
Northfield

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