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The real problem behind the Minnesota Republican Party’s deficit

The Minnesota Republican Party has been in the news: It is $533,000 in debt, and continues to spend faster than money is coming in. Party Chair Tony Sutton attributed the debt to “a calculated gamble to spend heavily on the 2010 elections.”

The real problem goes far beyond the state party’s $638,530 for 2010 independent spending on candidates. By the way, that’s 38 percent of the comparable 2006 amount.

The graph below shows the big picture for Republican state party contributions during the Pawlenty/Sutton era. As you can see, there is a dramatic downward trend.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s decision to unallot the Political Contribution Refund program (PCR) in 2009 is at the root of the party’s current  financial problem.

Linked parties, politicians to grass-roots supporters
Historically, the PCR system has worked well. The point of this system is to link parties and politicians — especially legislators — to grass-roots supporters. Typically about 100,000 Minnesotans participated in the PCR system each year.

Here’s how Minnesota’s campaign finance system works — when the PCR is funded:  

•    Individuals can contribute $5 each year to a party, using a tax return check-off.
•    Individuals can contribute a refundable $50 a year ($100 for married couples) to a state candidate or party. This works like the property tax refund.
•    Candidates who agree to spending limits are eligible for both contributions.

PCR contributions have been a crucial grass-roots revenue source for the Minnesota Republican party. In both 2002 and 2006 over twenty six thousand Minnesotans contributed, averaging $57 in 2002 and $68 in 2006. In 2002 — before the bitterness of the Pawlenty era — the State Republican party raised an additional $10 million in larger contributions. The party had broad support, and many moderates were among its large House majority from the 2002 election.

By the way, some claim this is “public” or “government” money. I disagree — it’s citizens’ money. No one can live in Minnesota for a year without paying at least $50 in taxes one way or another. That money collected in taxes only ceases to be our money when the Legislature spends it — but not before! The Legislature provided that We the People (not the Legislature) can decide (with limits) how to spend $50 collected in taxes. It’s our money we’re spending.  This same principle applies to tax form check-off systems.

We need to change our terminology — from “public campaign finance” to “citizens’ campaign finance.” That’s the reality of our Minnesota system.

Now dominated by big-money donors
Today our political system is dominated by groups capable of virtually unlimited “independent expenditures.” Instead of independent-minded representatives, we are seeing legislatures “occupied” by “boots-on-the-ground” partisan troops — largely controlled by economic interests.

Contributors have become leery of a Minnesota Republican Party with serious accounting problems, and a $170,000 fine for reporting violations. Business owners won’t support a party that actively opposes needed infrastructure. We can’t tolerate today’s situation, where one of our major parties is now controlled by only 60 big-money donors, contributing an average of about $40,000.

This is not “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Minnesota has an opportunity to restore the Political Contribution Refund program. If we do this, Minnesota’s campaign finance system can function again, and grass roots links to candidates and parties can be restored.

Bob Carney Jr. is currently seeking the Republican endorsement and nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Amy Klobuchar.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/11/2011 - 07:31 am.

    It’s really too bad that the average Minnesota “conservative” Republican, not to mention the average Minnesota citizen, doesn’t realize that the Republican Party is completely under the control of 60 of our state’s fattest fat cats.

    I suppose that DOES explain why the Republicans in the legislature refuse to listen to the average citizen on any issue, and continue to do everything in their power to further enrich those fat cats without any concern for how much they’re damaging the infrastructures require to keep the state running well.

    While hiding behind a smokescreen of carefully-photoshopped, popular-with-the-average-conservative-citizen social issues, they’ve already changed Minnesota from “the state that works” for the average citizen, (which it was in the 70’s),…

    to the “state that works the average citizen over in order to further enrich the already rich.”

    Sadly, the Minnesota Republican Party will never be able to escape from the economically immoral abyss created by the dysfunctional demands of their wealthy benefactors,…

    whose dysfunctions render them ever thirsty for greater wealth; wealth which those same dysfunctions render them incapable of ever experiencing satisfaction with.

    Unless, of course, moderate (i.e. average, everyday) Republicans round up some friends and go to their Precinct Caucus meetings to vote out the belligerent dysfons who have been running the show (because they’re just plain mean),…

    And take back their PARTY from those who have been doing themselves and the State of Minnesota so much damage for the past thirty years, or so.

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/11/2011 - 07:57 am.

    The numbers in the graph are difficult to believe. In the two prior elections about 30,000 contributors gave an average of $60.
    Then in 2010 the contributors all went away, but for 60 who gave $39,000 each! Even without the PCR this doesn’t make sense.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/11/2011 - 08:10 am.

    It’s not the role of government to support or even facilitate the support of political parties.

    If the republican party is indeed the party of the rich, they shouldn’t have any trouble raising the dough. But like most conservatives I know, I prefer to give directly to the candidate and avoid the party.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/11/2011 - 08:17 am.

    “Republican Party is completely under the control of 60 of our state’s fattest fat cats.”

    That’s not bad, actually. When Eugene McCarthy ran for president in 1968, his campaign was basically funded by three rich guys (which is why years later he still refused to support campaign finance laws).

    Message does matter more than money, as the Billion Dollar Man is going to find out next year.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/11/2011 - 08:51 am.

    Great job, Bob…way to kick off your campaign; way to encourage people to contribute!

    Unless I’m mistaken, and I’m not, the DFL’s outstanding debt is somewhere North of $300k.

    Where’s the pretty graph for them?

    Greg; please allow me to help refurbish your old, busted amphigory with new hotness…

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/11/2011 - 09:04 am.

    Dennis@#3: I think you should make clear, Dennis, that you think it’s the job of government to facilitate and support only one party, the Republican Party. I think you’ve made it pretty clear in your comments on this site that there’s no room in this country for “leftists” or their policies or ideas. The Republican Party has been trying for years to make this come true. It almost succeeded under Bush.

    Anyway, if you think government doesn’t facilitate political parties, you should ask any third party candidate about how easy they think it is to get on the ballot.

    I really don’t get the comparison between the Republican Party and Gene McCarthy’s run at the Presidency. The campaign of one candidate is hardly the same thing as an entire political party. The Republican Party is pretty representative of our plutocracy. I’d add that the only difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties at this time is that the Democratic Party has not figured out how to enforce a “group think” lock-step party line like the Republicans have.

  7. Submitted by Scott Dutcher on 11/11/2011 - 11:00 am.

    This graph, and the conclusions drawn from it, are deeply flawed.

    The trend claimed by the graph does not indicate a “dramatic downward trend” as claimed. Rather, the “trend” is caused by the distortions resulting from RNC transfers in competitive election years.

    In 2002, the Republican party was fighting very tight races both for Governor and for Senate. As a result, the state’s races were targeted any RNC dollars flowed in to help. FEC reports indicate around $12 million.

    In 2006, the Republican party was fighting a tight race for Governor, but the Senate race was not targeted. As a result, RNC dollars were smaller. FEC reports indicate around $2 million.

    In 2010, there was no Senate race and the Governor’s race did not look close until the last days before the election. FEC reports indicate less than $1 million in RNC funds that year.

    Thus, the appearance of a “trend” is explained not by MNGOP contributors fleeing the party, but by the distortions caused by RNC transfers in tight election contests. Any other conclusion is not supported by the reports that are publicly available at or on the Campaign Finance Board website. The writer’s statement that in 2002 “the State Republican party raised an additional $10 million in larger contributions” is demonstrably false and should be retracted.

    Finally, the claim that MNGOP is supported only by 60 “big-money” contributors is also false. It is not clear where this figure came from, but contributors who give less than $100 per year are not itemized. Thus, the thousands of small contributions received by MNGOP are not listed separately on campaign finance reports and thus not publicly available. The claim to that effect should be retracted.

    Kind Regards,
    Scott M. Dutcher
    MNGOP Executive Board

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/11/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Uh, just to be clear, Jon and readers, I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Republican Party. You can look it up.

  9. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/11/2011 - 11:32 am.

    I am a little surprised that MinnPost is letting Community Voices be used for a campaign pitch. Things must be a little slow in the editorial department.

  10. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 11/17/2011 - 01:58 pm.

    Sounds like good fiscal conservatism to me.

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