Weak campaign finance laws in Minneapolis and statewide allow the public few timely disclosures on how candidates raise their money, and a roomful of students at a mayoral campaign forum at the University of Minnesota Tuesday night didn’t pick up many details from the contenders.
A moderator said that corporate donations have played an increasingly influential role in political campaigns and asked the eight candidates on stage to disclose which corporations have contributed to them, and how they will remain accountable to constituents as well as those donors.
Few directly answered the question.
Council Member Don Samuels noted that city candidates are not permitted to take campaign contributions from companies directly – rather, individuals who work for corporations give.
“That’s just how it is, so I get money from people from all walks of life,” said Samuels, adding that former Gov. Al Quie had endorsed him because of his character.
Then Samuels spent the rest of his allotted time talking about a plan to target six crime families, which he hadn’t finished speaking about during an earlier round of questioning.
Samuel didn’t name a single donor, though he could have noted that people tied to the Vikings stadium have given to his campaign (he is the only mayoral candidate who voted for the controversial deal).
Mark Andrew, the top fundraiser in the race, also gave a general answer. He didn’t detail how most of his campaign contributions are coming from lawyers, retirees, lobbyists, and developers.
Instead, he said national campaigns are awash in money and there aren’t many citizens who think that's good for the public. Andrew lamented the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 that essentially allowed unlimited political spending by corporations, saying it has a corrosive effect on campaigns.
“Fundraising in and of itself is not inherently evil, but in local races all of us have been beating the bushes to try to raise enough money to get our message out,” said Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner.
He and Jackie Cherryhomes, a former City Council president, called for public financing of campaigns.
All of the candidates are spending way too much time trying to raise money to get the message out and “it’s an awful thing to be doing,” said Cherryhomes.
She didn’t detail any of her donors. Those include former clients of her lobbying firm that have business before City Hall, such as a consortium of trash haulers that just won another city contract. (Cherryhomes dropped her work for clients doing business with the city about six months ago, after announcing her campaign.) Addressing the question about remaining accountable, she noted a statement from Senator Bobby Jo Champion on her website that praised her service on the council.
Council Member Betsy Hodges didn’t list any of her contributors, but said she remains accountable to constituents by saying the same things wherever she goes, even if it sometimes costs her support.
Some candidates gave a few more specifics.
Noting that he grew up on the East Coast and didn’t live in Minneapolis until he was 27, Cam Winton said he raised money from old out-of-state friends who are in law and finance, in addition to people "from all walks of life" in the city. Still, he turned the focus away from his own campaign to urge reporters to look into rumblings about independent expenditures being raised for other candidates.
Three more candidates at the event – Doug Mann, Bob Fine, and Stephanie Woodruff – have raised little money, though fundraising is a key measure of candidate strength in this year’s crowded field of 35 contenders. Woodruff said proudly that she had spent only about $2,000 in a race with $1 million pouring in overall, adding that most of her money donations came from retirees and small business owners.