Less than two weeks ago, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey sauntered into a press conference and brazenly announced a new campaign to encourage Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature to return all of the projected $1.9 billion budget surplus to taxpayers.
Downey stood at a podium, anointed himself “the face and voice" of Republicans in Minnesota and with the party’s limited checkbook, introduced his personal dogma of "Give it Back" into the budget debate at the State Capitol. The "Give it Back" campaign, which included a television advertisement featuring Downey himself, offered scant details.
The estimated cost of the campaign was $150,000 and focused on just three words: "Give it Back." When you are spending $50,000 per word to advertise a message, you really cannot afford to add much detail – especially when you’re over $1 million in debt.
Downey’s "Give it Back" campaign was not designed by an astute political tactician. It certainly was not engineered to work in coordination with Republican leadership at the Minnesota Legislature. Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said he was not called by Downey before he released his "Give it Back" campaign.
Until Downey voiced his affection for "Give it Back", the phrase was repeatedly uttered by House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) as a way to verbally taunt Republicans at the State Capitol. Thissen has been reminding everyone who would listen that Republicans wanted to "Give it Back" last year, but had not embraced the same budget philosophy this year.
I can only assume that Thissen was moved to tears of joy, after seeing Downey adopt his messaging ruse of "Give it Back."
But for Republicans at the Minnesota Legislature, Downey’s "Give it Back" campaign has created more discord than unity. Republicans received the overly simplistic and unrealistic message spoken by Downey in his television advertisement with bewilderment.
The cartoon visuals conveyed the message that Downey wanted Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature to return the surplus in refund checks. Representative Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), expressed puzzlement with Downey’s message, telling the Star Tribune "I don't think anybody's talking about giving it back in the sense of giving people checks."
There have been few legislative Republicans that have fully embraced Downey’s “Give it Back” campaign. Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) echoed Downey’s call to “Give it Back” and it was recently announced Drazkowski would chair the upcoming convention where Republicans will determine if Downey should serve another term as chairman.
I’m sure it is just a coincidence.
It has not been just Republican legislators that have been confused by the lack of planning in Downey’s "Give it Back" campaign. Three weeks ago, Downey gathered members of the Republican Party of Minnesota State Executive Committee on a conference call and asked for authorization to spend "at least six-figures" on a "Give it Back" campaign.
Downey did not provide specific details on how the campaign would be implemented, nor did Downey disclose to members of the committee that he would be prominently featured in the campaign. The vote to fund Downey’s “Give it Back" campaign was not unanimous, as some members of the committee expressed concern about the size of the party’s debt obligations.
But party chairmen usually get what they want and a majority of members on the State Executive Committee approved Downey’s request. The top leaders in a political party which promotes "exercising spending restraint" authorized Downey to spend up to $999,999.99 without requiring him to report back on the specifics of his “Give it Back” campaign.
When it came time for Downey to unveil his magnum opus, Downey did not bother to send the television advertisement starring him to members of the State Executive Committee who had authorized the expenditure. Many first saw the television advertisement on Twitter. In response to criticism that he did not have the courtesy to share the advertisement before it was released, Downey responded that he could not "risk it" being prematurely released.
Downey's strategery behind the "Give it Back" campaign continues to befuddle Republicans, as it has become clear that $350 checks returning the surplus will not be arriving in mailboxes. Jeff Kolb, a blogger in Minnesota, reported he received a "Give it Back" fundraising call from the Republican Party of Minnesota on Friday.
Kolb's tweet was very informative.
Interestingly, @mngop call started with "Give it All Back" but by the end said if they didn't give it back should spend on "fixing potholes"— Jeff Kolb (@jpkolb) March 20, 2015
The transformation of the party's messaging on the budget surplus from Downey's "Give it Back" to spend it on "fixing potholes" has been speedy. The change is a clear sign that spending some of surplus on projects such as "fixing potholes" is more enticing to donors than Downey's "Give it Back."
For Republicans in Minnesota, it is too bad Downey needed to spend $150,000 to figure this out.
Picture source: Republican Party of Minnesota "Give it Back" TV ad
In an e-mail to local Republican officials this morning, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey wrote the party is "making one final attempt" at seeking a waiver from rules governing the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The rules for the convention currently would bind Minnesota delegates to support the winner of the presidential preference ballot at Republican precinct caucuses next year.
In past years, Minnesota delegates to the Republican National Convention were not bound by the results of the presidential preference ballot conducted at precinct caucuses. The new rules binding delegates have been criticized by some Republicans who want to retain the ability to support the presidential candidate of their choice regardless of the results of the preference ballot conducted at precinct caucuses.
In 2012, Rick Santorum won the presidential preference ballot, but the majority of the Minnesota delegates to the Republican National Convention supported Ron Paul.
Downey wrote the "national trend is strong toward binding [delegates]." He added the party has been contacted by supporters of the current rule binding delegates who believe it would "help ensure our Caucus Straw Ballot results better reflect the grassroots support for a presidential candidate."
If the request for a waiver is not granted, the party has reviewed another option for bypassing the rules which bind delegates to the winner of the presidential preference ballot at Republican precinct caucuses.
While state law requires a preference ballot be conducted for president at precinct caucuses, the Republican Party of Minnesota State Executive Committee has discussed not conducting a preference ballot next year. If there is no preference ballot at Republican precinct caucuses, then delegates cannot be bound to the results.
In response to questions about the law requiring a preference ballot, a representative of Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon wrote his office "has no enforcement authority" to require a political party to conduct a preference ballot. They added the party should consult with their legal counsel if they had any "further questions about enforcement or legal issues surrounding the preference ballot."
The Republican Party of Minnesota is seeking a waiver from rules governing the 2016 Republican National Convention which would bind Minnesota delegates to support the winner of the presidential preference ballot at Republican precinct caucuses.
Bill Jungbauer, the chair of the 2nd Congressional District Republicans and a member of the State Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said party leadership would be discussing concerns with the current rules for the 2016 Republican National Convention at the next meeting of the State Executive Committee on February 26, 2014.
According to state law, a preference ballot will be conducted for president at precinct causes.
Rule changes made at the 2012 Republican National Convention and later amended by the RNC, require that the results of the presidential preference ballot at Republican precinct caucuses "must be used to allocate and bind the state’s delegation to the national convention in either a proportional or winner-take-all manner."
In previous years, Minnesota delegates to the Republican National Convention were not bound by the results of the presidential preference ballot conducted at precinct caucuses. The bulk of the Minnesota delegates to the Democratic National Convention are required to support the winner of the presidential preference ballot conducted at DFL precinct caucuses.
Additional rules by the national parties for nominating presidential candidates in 2016 triggered the chairs of the Minnesota DFL and Republican Party of Minnesota today to notify Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon of their joint decision to schedule precinct caucuses for March 1, 2016.
It is too bad the nominees for the 2015 Academy Awards have already been announced, because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk's performance yesterday at the Minnesota Senate was worthy of a nomination.
The carpet leading into the chambers of the Minnesota Senate is not bright red like the carpet that will welcome Hollywood's elite attending the Oscar ceremony. But the political theater created by Bakk's feigned outrage over Governor Mark Dayton's decision to grant pay increases to commissioners should earn Bakk the opportunity to walk down the same red carpet next week at the Dolby Theatre.
Let's set the stage for Bakk's tour de force performance. In 2013, the Minnesota Senate passed legislation - supported by Bakk - which would allow the Governor of Minnesota to set the salaries of commissioners. Dayton supported the legislation and said in a statement, "I have lost outstanding employees because someone else could offer them salaries 50 percent or even 100 percent higher than state government."
After the legislation was passed, the commissioners received salary increases in 2013 and 2014. I could not find any public comments of concern about the salary increases from anyone, including Bakk. In January, Dayton again exercised the authority granted to him by Bakk and the Minnesota Legislature and he set salary increases to commissioners in 2015. But this time, Bakk cried foul.
The same legislator who voted in 2013 to allow Dayton to establish the salaries of his commissioners stood at his desk in the Minnesota Senate and now claimed legislators had an "oversight authority" to ensure a "thoughtful review" of the salary increases Bakk said "most likely are warranted."
If Bakk wanted to ensure the legislature had "oversight authority" over salary increases for commissioners, then why did he support changing the law in 2013 to allow the governor and not the legislature to set the salaries for commissioners?
But where Bakk's speech turned into a performance that should be considered for one of acting's highest honors is when he appeared confused about the salary increases authorized by Dayton, saying there is "a lot of information we don't know."
As I reviewed Bakk's speech and his captivating performance from yesterday, I was reminded of the advice given from the late George Burns to aspiring actors:
And remember this for the rest of your life: To be a fine actor, when you’re playing a role you’ve got to be honest. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
After Bakk exited the stage, the Minnesota Senate voted to delay the pay increases for commissioners set by Dayton, who used the authority given to him by the same Minnesota Senate in 2013 to set the salaries of commissioners. The vote choreographed by Bakk yesterday appears to have more to do with the 2016 elections, when the entire Minnesota Legislature will be up for re-election. By allowing the Minnesota Senate to vote to delay the pay increases for commissioners, Bakk is providing political cover for senators (mostly DFL) who changed the law to permit a governor to set the salaries of their commissionors.
Dayton, who has been straight-forward and consistent about his position on salary increases for commissioners and legislators, offered a sharp critique of Bakk's performace yesterday. Dayton said, "I certainly learned a brutal lesson today that I can’t trust him, can’t believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back."
It seems Bakk has followed the sage advice given by Burns to aspiring actors and for that, Senator Bakk should take a well-deserved bow.
Picture source: Minnesota Senate
The campaign of former Republican U.S. Senate candidate and current State Senator Julianne Ortman failed to return over $30,000 in general election campaign contributions to individual donors within the time required after Ortman withdrew from the primary election last year.
Based on new campaign finance reports filed by Ortman's campaign with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), Ortman's campaign returned $23,125 in general election contributions on September 30, 2014. Ortman's campaign reported returning $7,200 in general election contributions on December 31, 2014.
The FEC confirmed today that a candidate who does not participate in the general election must return any contributions designated for the general election within 60 days of withdrawing from the primary or losing the primary election.
Ortman officially ended her campaign for the U.S. Senate on June 2, 2014 when she formally withdrew from the primary election, just days after she failed to receive the Republican Party of Minnesota's endorsement for U.S. Senate at their state convention in Rochester.
Since Ortman ended her campaign on June 2, 2014, all general election contributions needed to be returned to individual donors by July 31, 2014. Therefore, the contributions returned to individual donors on September 30, 2014 and December 31, 2014 - totaling $30,325 - were returned after the 60 day deadline.
The FEC provides campaigns with instructions on how to allocate contributions for the primary and general elections. According to the Federal Election Commission Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees, campaigns "must adopt an accounting system to distinguish between contributions made for the primary election and those made for the general election..." The FEC's guide also states "candidates should en-sure they have enough cash on hand to make those refunds if needed."
It appears Ortman's campaign did not "en-sure they have enough cash on hand to make those refunds if needed", as Ortman loaned her campaign $8,400 on December 31, 2014 - the same day her campaign returned $7,200 of general election contributions to individual donors.
In response to a request for comment, Ortman claimed her campaign "self-reported this issue" to the FEC, but she did not respond to a question asking when her campaign notified the FEC. Ortman also did not respond to a request for a copy of the communication she claims was sent by her campaign to the FEC which "self-reported this issue..."
Staff at the FEC could not confirm Ortman's claim that her campaign "self-reported this issue" and no communications from her campaign about this issue appears in the list of public filings on the FEC's website. Ortman claims all of the general election contributions received by her campaign have now been returned to individual donors.
The FEC previously notified Ortman's campaign in January 2014 about issues with "excessive contributions" which appeared in one of her campaign finance reports filed in October 2013. Ortman's campaign eventually returned over $10,000 of "excess contributions" to individual donors.
Ortman's campaign could be fined by the FEC for failing to return general election campaign contributions to individual donors within the time required after Ortman withdrew from the 2014 primary election. In 2013, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's campaign paid a civil fine of $20,000 for failing to return $67,700 in general election campaign contributions to individual donors after Weiner withdrew from the 2012 primary election.
This new issue with campaign donations comes just days after Ortman disclosed a payment on her campaign finance reports made by her U.S. Senate campaign to rival candidate, who claimed he received the payment for endorsing Ortman's candidacy.
Picture source: Julianne Ortman for U.S. Senate