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Campaign Finance Board Changes That Could Affect Engineers

Greetings ACEC/MN members,

Please see below for a message from our lobbyists on recent changes to Campaign Finance Board (CFB) rules that expanded definitions for who qualifies as a lobbyist. As noted below, if you have any questions about the rule changes, or hypothetical situations for the CFB to consider, please send them to Grace Altier:

Jonathan Curry

ACEC Minnesota Executive Director



Hello ACEC/MN members,

We have recently been made aware of Campaign Finance Board (CFB) changes that have been made that could affect the engineering community and require engineers interfacing with local elected officials to register as lobbyists. Linked here is the Campaign Finance Board opinion that has been provided to the public recently following campaign finance reform that passed in 2023. When the bills to change the scope of local government lobbying were passed in 2023 it did not appear that the changes being discussed would impact engineers. These changes were discussed as a means to make it easier for the public to identify who is trying to influence local government actions and we are going to try to work with the CFB to get further clarification on how these changes are intended to impact the engineering community.

You can learn more about how these changes are impacting a much larger swath of people than legislators intended by reading this article: You Might Be a Lobbyist Now - Minnesota Reformer. Here is a quote from the article about Chief Author of the bill that made the changes to local government lobbying, Rep. Nathan Coulter (DFL-Bloomington): “Coulter said he’s open to introducing legislation next session to clarify that people who provide technical expertise to local governments ? like engineers, underwriters and attorneys ? are not considered lobbyists.”

The Background: 

During the 2023 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed sweeping Campaign Finance reform. Included in those reforms was a provision that expanded the definition of local government lobbying.

As defined before the law change, lobbying local governments only occurred in the seven-county metro area, and only those seven counties, the Metropolitan Council, the Metropolitan Airport Commission, and fourteen cities in the metro area with populations above 50,000. This scope was expanded to make local lobbying include the other 80 counties, 839 more cities, 330 school districts, and 1,764 townships.

New laws now in effect define a lobbyist as:

  • Any person who receives $3,000 or more or spends $3,000 of personal funds:
    • Attempting to influence certain government action by communicating with or encouraging others to communicate with government officials or
    • From a business whose primary source of revenue is facilitating government relations consulting work

In addition, the CFB now considers it lobbying when any individual interacts with city, county, and/or state officials on official actions, defined as:

  • Any action that requires a vote or approval by one or more elected local officials while acting in their official capacity; or an action by an appointed or employed local official to make, to recommend, or to vote on as a member of the governing body, major decisions regarding the expenditure or investment of public money.

Linked Please Find An Opinion Of Interest To ACEC/MN

  • MCFB Opinion AO457 (linked above) demonstrates through a breadth of hypotheticals in which the CFB has interpreted the new rules to find that several simple interactions with local elected officials, and sometimes non-elected officials may count as lobbying.
    • Is conveying proposed amendments to a comprehensive plan or zoning ordinance to city officials, even if the city requested the comments, lobbying?
      • The proposed amendments to a comprehensive plan or zoning ordinance are an attempt to influence an official action of elected officials of the city, and therefore conveying the amendments is lobbying.
  • Is meeting with the county surveyor to review and discuss the county surveyor's recommended changes to a proposed subdivision plat if the development agreement requires the county to expend any public money on infrastructure for the project lobbying?
    • If the meeting is solely for gathering information on the surveyor's recommendations, then the meeting is not lobbying.
    • If the meeting is with the goal of changing the surveyor's recommendations, then, the meeting is lobbying.

You may also find this document of interest, which is a summary of the changes made to campaign finance law last year.

ACEC/MN / MnSPE’s Meeting with the Campaign Finance Board:

On Wednesday, January 25th, we met with the Campaign Finance Board to raise concerns about how the changes will impact engineers. During that meeting with the Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Board, he shared with us rulemaking the Board is considering at their January 29 meeting. Included in their proposed rules are the below clarifications that may be of interest to you:

  • Payment of an application fee, or processing charge, for a government service, permit, or license is not lobbying or an activity that directly supports lobbying.
  • Employee of a political subdivision is defined in the proposed rules includes:
    • An individual hired to provide the political subdivision services as a consultant or independent contractor.

If you have any questions about the rule changes, or hypothetical situations for the CFB to consider please send them to Grace Altier: We will keep you updated as things progress. The hearing on the proposed rules will take place on January 29. Then in the coming weeks the Campaign Finance Board will consider the testimony from the January 29th hearing. Their recommendations will then go to the Office of Legislative Hearings, and they will decide to adopt the rules the CFB recommends adopting. If these issues are not resolved through rulemaking we will pursue legislative action.

When we met with the Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Board to raise our concerns and learn more about the changes, he said that they would not be enforcing the new rules until they get the opportunity to fully understand them themselves.

Thank you for your help.

Tom Poul and Courtney Jasper