In the wake of yesterday’s stunning announcement by Al Franken that he would pay $70,000 in back taxes to 17 states, DFL insiders I interviewed generally agreed on these propositions:
• Franken is not in any immediate danger of being forced from the race. DFLers are gossiping hard about who might step in if the Franken candidacy implodes, but not conducting an active search or draft movement. Most expect that Franken will be the nominee.
• Party leaders in Minnesota and Washington will watch closely to see whether Franken’s poll numbers, fund-raising or standing among DFL delegates tanks over the next few days or weeks, and reassess if there is serious slippage or more problems.
• By paying all the back taxes and taking personal responsibility (although there was plenty of blaming of his accountant as well) Franken was trying to end the drip-drip-drip of bad news stories relating to his past business and tax problems and get it over with all at once in hope of moving on to more pleasant topics. This was a smart move, but one that should have been made sooner.
• Franken and his campaign staff had committed a colossal blunder by not having long ago hired an independent opposition researcher to see what kind of dirt could be dug up on the candidate before he launched his candidacy. This kind of pre-emptive self-research — so problems can be identified and addressed before the campaign begins — are now standard practice in big-time politics. For the Republicans to know more about Franken’s business skeletons than he apparently knew himself borders on inexcusable.
• It is possible but unlikely that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Franken’s opponent for the DFL endorsement, will get enough benefit from this development to deny Franken the endorsement at the DFL convention in June.
• The word in party circles was that Franken had done a good job in a series of media interviews late Tuesday. Some DFLers accepted Franken’s word that he had not actually underpaid his taxes but merely paid them to the wrong states because of bad advice from his accountant. Others feared that this subtlety would not help with ordinary voters who would assume that anyone paying $70,000 in back taxes had been up to something fishy.
The latest developments will certainly heighten (already has) the long-standing palpable nervousness in local and national Democratic circles about whether Franken is the candidate who can capitalize on what DFLers see as a golden opportunity to pick up the Senate seat now held by Republican Norm Coleman. One source said that a lot of people who have given and raised a lot of money for Franken are not happy. They don’t like surprises.
Over the past year, Franken’s strengths — name recognition, fund-raising prowess, an impressive grass roots operation, a prodigious work ethic — have won over some skeptics. But they have been offset by serious weaknesses: a prickly personality, high negative ratings in polls, and a long paper trail of potty-mouthed comments from his show biz days that make him an opposition researcher’s dream come true. The embarrassing disclosures about his personal business affairs has been added to the list and has DFLers wondering what else they don’t know about Franken.
Will Ciresi jump in?
There were rumors that former candidate Mike Ciresi might re-enter the race, perhaps as a primary challenger. Ciresi’s public statements didn’t rule it out. Other than Ciresi, there was little consistency in the names being mentioned as possible late-starting candidates.
Even if they decided the DFL could find a stronger candidate, the party does not have a coherent group of leaders who have the ability and/or the willingness to enforce their will against a candidate like Franken, who has, after all, raised his own campaign war-chest, outlasted Ciresi who was believed to be his most serious challenger, and won a commanding lead in delegates heading into the convention.
A decision to drop out for the good of the party, if it came to that, would pretty much have to come from Franken, who has not said or done anything to suggest that he has any such plan or thought.
And anyway, the party has not discovered the candidate who is willing to run and who has a better chance than Franken of defeating Coleman. And that, as one of my sources told me last night, has been the story all along
Franken campaign’s message about taxes
Here’s the text of a message sent out yesterday by the Franken campaign about the candidate’s tax situation:
Hi everyone –
I want to introduce you to someone. This is communications director Andy Barr and he’s got something to share with you. No doubt, you’ve seen the stories about Al’s tax situation. And if you haven’t, you probably will tomorrow. The short of it is this: While Al and Franni always paid state and federal taxes on every cent their income, their accountant didn’t always pay it to the correct state. For example, when Al gave a speech in Arkansas, a small portion of his income taxes should have been paid to Arkansas. Instead, their accountant incorrectly sent those tax dollars to Al and Franni’s state of residence.
We need you to make sure the truth of this story is heard over the GOP noise. Full disclosure. There are 842 of you on this list. And we need every single one of you to help get this message out.
And now a word from Andy:
Norm Coleman and his flunkies are going to spend the rest of this campaign lying about Al Franken because Al had the decency to admit a mistake and the character to fix it.
And you are the only people who can stop them.
Over the next weeks and months, there are going to be two versions of today’s story.
1. The Republican (Fake) Version
Al Franken evaded taxes in 17 states and then lied about it. He’s getting rich by cheating on his taxes while the rest of us have to pay our fair share. How can Minnesotans trust someone who doesn’t even pay his taxes?
2. The Non-Fake Version
Al Franken paid state and federal income tax on every cent he ever earned, right down to the 11-cent residual checks for re-runs of “SNL.” Due to an accounting error, he overpaid his state taxes in some states and underpaid them in others — but he didn’t benefit financially. As soon as he found out about the mistake, he immediately resolved it — even though none of the states where he underpaid ever asked for the money.
And Al showed some serious leadership tonight. His team found out about the error before the GOP did, he corrected it right away — then he offered immediate disclosure. And DFL delegates found out about it before they read it in the paper because this campaign put together a 100 person phone bank in an hour to tell them.
This is how a candidate should behave.
Al Franken has never shied away from taking on the Republican smear machine, and we’re not going to start now. We will fight this and every other battle tooth and nail between now and November.
If you ever hear, read, or see the Fake Version of this story, we need you to help us do what Al does best: tell the truth.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Al Franken for Senate