Even with a nod to strange bed fellows, this team is unusual.
Former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson and his DFL opponent for that office in 1994, state Sen. John Marty, are collaborating on campaign finance reform.
A bill that Marty intends to introduce this session with support from Carlson would require that the board of directors or executive councils of a corporation or union — not just a CEO or president — approve any political contribution. It also would prohibit political contributions by a corporation in which a foreign national has more than 20 percent ownership.
The bill is the result of Carlson’s and Marty’s dismay over the repercussions of the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited corporate and union money for independent political expenditures funneled into what are called Super PACs.
“You could see these Super PACs coming,” Carlson said. “They’ve become infinitely more powerful players than any candidate.”
According to OpenSecrets.org, as of this week, 342 Super PACs have reported total receipts of $130,334,342 and independent expenditures of $61,418,351 in the 2012 election cycle
Although dealing with the effects of the Citizens United decision unites Carlson and Marty, they differ on their approaches.
For Marty, corporate contributions are the wrong way to support political campaigns.
“The way I frame it, we have all of these problems, health care, education, and the Supreme Court found a new one – not enough corporate money in politics,” he said. Marty’s “clean money” agenda would ban PAC, lobbyist and large money contributions.
Carlson’s take on dealing with the Citizens United decision centers more on corporate governance.
“For a long time I have felt that a manager, that is, the CEO of a company, ought not to have unilateral authority to donate to candidates and causes,” he said. “The reality is that the shareholder owns the company and is represented by the board of directors. So any decision should come from the board of directors. That should be the same for all business decisions.”
He said the same should apply to labor organizations: the decision to donate to a campaign should be made by the structure that governs the union.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie was Carlson’s first call to air his concerns, and Ritchie referred him to Marty. The former governor was familiar with Marty’s expertise on campaign finance. In the 1994 legislative session, just before Carlson’s reelection, Carlson vetoed a Marty bill that lowered contributions to gubernatorial campaigns to $2,000 per individual. The bill was later modified, and the limit became law.
Today, they shrug off the old battles. “I appreciate he feels comfortable calling me,” Marty said. “He has some good, legitimate concerns.”
The bill has no Republican authors, and Marty hesitates when asked if he thinks the bill will get a committee hearing this session. Still, he’s convinced that the timing is right.
“There’s a growing sense we are going to have to push back. The Supreme Court blew it,” he said. “Corporations are not people, money is not speech.”
Carlson predicts that some conservatives will support his proposal. “I take some issue that political reform emanates from the left,” he said. “The Tea Party opened the whole debate. They are the ones who took tremendous umbrage at Wall Street. The Tea Party would be supportive.”
While Carlson and Marty still don’t see eye-to-eye on much in politics, they share what they say is a broader goal of restoring the individuals’ control over government.
“I’ve never had any objection to individuals petitioning or paying someone to lobby, but people who are paid to influence are also the biggest campaign contributors,” Marty said.
Carlson said: “Part of the campaign discussion should be about what is the role of we the people. It’s not enough just to vote. We must know what’s going and hold public servants accountable.”