Monday, October 31, 2005

No Limit?

The Star Tribune has an article on the spending in the governor's race.

A no-limit run for governor?

All signs point to big bucks pouring into Minnesota's 2006 gubernatorial race.

For the first time in almost 25 years, several of Minnesota's leading major-party candidates appear likely to decline public campaign subsidies. That would allow them to ignore the spending limits that have made contests for governor and other statewide constitutional offices relatively low-budget affairs.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who accepted the subsidies and limits in 2002, spending about $2.5 million, by all accounts is raising money at a record clip. He has not yet signed a public financing agreement for 2006, and many observers speculate that he won't.

On the DFL side, millionaire real estate developer Kelly Doran has said that he definitely will not participate in the state subsidy program, and he has already spent well over $500,000 on billboards and TV advertising, more than a year from election day.

This presumably will put Pawlenty's and Doran's publicly financed opponents at a disadvantage, at least temporarily. Attorney General Mike Hatch and state Sen. Steve Kelley have signed the irrevocable agreements to receive funding and abide by the limits. They would be released from those limits because the others are exceeding them and still be allowed to keep the public money -- but not until early September 2006.

Until then, the nonabiders could race far out front in spending on advertising, direct mail, telemarketing and all the other crucial weapons of politics.

"This clearly favors the incumbent and wealthy candidates, and creates a situation where the campaign becomes all about money," said David Schultz, a Hamline University professor and an expert on campaign finance. "It forces all the candidates to rely more on special interest money and to be more responsive to them, and that's already a problem."

A completely different take is offered by a critic of the state's campaign subsidies.

"These limits have caused millions more dollars to be spent by independent groups, on their own and through soft money contributions to parties," said David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "This points up the irony that wealthy people are restricted ... unless they themselves are the candidate."

Strom and other conservative Republicans typically favor throwing out subsidies and limits and requiring more immediate and complete disclosure of campaign finance transactions.

The Minnesota program was installed in the 1970s in an effort to reduce the influence of interest groups and wealthy individuals on the political process. It has been tinkered with and periodically overhauled.

Rich candidate, poor candidate

Noting the emergence of two wealthy DFLers running for state office, state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, issued a statement last week calling for all candidates to "abide by reasonable 'Minnesota Values' campaign limits." House Minority Leader Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, who announced his candidacy for attorney general last week, said he hasn't decided yet whether to abide by a spending limit of about $400,000 in that race. Entenza's wife, Lois Quam, is a health care executive and one of the state's highest-paid corporate officers.

Candidates participating in the program say busting the limits is just plain unfair.

"It's not fair to the Minnesota voter, whether in the primary or the general, because it tilts information too strongly to the side that has the most money to spend," said Kelley, one of four leading DFL gubernatorial candidates.

Doran, who has never run for office or been active in DFL politics, says he has to overcome his handicap as an unknown outsider.

"When you are a candidate that is not an incumbent, or any citizen who wants to run for office, you're at a significant disadvantage to an incumbent who gets all kinds of free media coverage," he said.

Perhaps the most disadvantaged party of all is the Independence Party, which is expected to endorse Peter Hutchinson, former Minneapolis school superintendent and public policy expert. The subsidies and limits were crucial in enabling former Gov. Jesse Ventura to compete and win as a third-party candidate in 1998.

"It's a sad state of affairs to come to this point again," said Pam Neary, a former legislator who is Hutchinson's campaign manager. "We were at a point where we didn't allow money to be the loudest voice in the campaign, and unfortunately now the established parties have figured out a way around it."

Minnesota might want to consider raising its spending limits and subsidies considerably in order to restore incentives for abiding, said Bob Stern, director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Government Studies.

Minnesota has "one of the best models in the country for public financing, but it's old and needs to be updated," Stern said. (Source: Star Tribune, Oct. 31, 2005)

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