President Obama spent the second day of his visit Minnesota visit offering a strong defense of his record and spark some energy in Democrats as they head into a high-stakes election season.
“Your cares and your concerns are my own, and your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own,” he told a crowd of 2,000 people gathered at Lake Harriet on Friday. “And I’m always going to be working to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it. And I am not going to get cynical; I’m staying hopeful, and I hope you do too.”
Obama is trying to keep the U. S. Senate in Democratic hands in the coming election. Losing the Senate would be a major blow to any accomplishments he hopes to achieve in the final two years of his term.
Republicans are trying to frame Obama as out of touch with average Americans and are highlighting new data showing sagging growth in the U.S. economy.
“Instead of coming to Minnesota to listen and consider a different approach on the struggling economy, it’s clear President Obama’s visit is all about doubling down on his failed, partisan agenda and pumping up Democrats ahead of a tough midterm election,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.
Republicans have also tried to highlight that the Twin Cities mother who has come to embody the trip for the president had been a Democratic campaign worker in Washington state.
Obama came to Minnesota after Twin Cities’ mother Rebekah Erler wrote him a letter about the hardships of raising a family.
Obama had lunch with Erler on Thursday and sprinkled anecdotes through her life throughout her speech.
“It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to,” she wrote to the president. “We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Obama took that personal anecdote to make a larger statement about the country.
“And that describes the American people,” he said. “We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Allison Sherry and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty said early Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Republicans should back a minimum wage increase.
"If you're going to talk the talk about being for the middle class and the working person, if we have a minimum wage, it should be reasonably adjusted from time to time," the former presidential contender said on the morning cable program. "There are some basic things we should be for."
Pawlenty's comments come ahead of a Senate vote later today on a proposal supported by President Obama to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in three steps, concluding in 2016. The measure is supported by DFL Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom have made floor speeches in the last two days in support.
Obama will also make remarks on the minimum wage later today. The vote is not likely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled House. Neither GOP Reps. John Kline or Erik Paulsen's office responded to questions on the wage hike Wednesday.
As Democrats were trumpeting Pawlenty's comments, the former governor made clear that his support for a minimum wage increase does not mean he backed the $10.10 an hour plan.
"The proposal being presented by the Senate majority goes too far and too fast,” Pawlenty said in an email to Politico.
Pawlenty, who is now the CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, has a significant history with minimum wage increase proposals.
As governor back in 2005, Pawlenty signed a Minnesota minimum wage hike. That measure lifted the state's wage floor from $5.15 an hour, where it had stagnated since 1997, to $6.15 an hour for large employers.
At the time, the hike had bipartisan support and primarily Republican opposition. Among the Republicans who voted against it -- then state Rep. Paulsen, who is now in the U.S. House.
In subsequent years, Pawlenty vetoed legislators' attempt to raise the state's minimum so it remained at $6.15 an hour, even as the federal minimum went up to $7.25 an hour. Since then, Minnesota has had one of the lowest minimum wages in the country.
But this year, the DFL-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton set out to change that.
After considerable debate, they approved a minimum wage increase. Earlier this month, Dayton signed into law an measure to raise the state's minimum to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Future increases would be tied to inflation, meaning the state's lowest wage workers would continue to get paycheck boosts after 2016 except in times of significant economic downturns.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Franken said the oft-repeated argument among Republicans that the minimum wage doesn't help businesses isn't true.
"People who earn minimum wage spend the money they're earning," he said. "Workers who are better paid are better workers and are less likely to quit ... It helps business."
On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal limits on how much an individual can give to campaigns in aggregate, which could allow high dollar donors to spread their largess to a wider swath of political hopefuls and parties.
Unlike the federal system, which essentially limited how many donations in total a donor could give, Minnesota law does not place restrictions on the number of campaigns to which a high-dollar donor can contribute.
Current state law allows donors to give massive amounts to parties or PACs and allows donors to spread their donations to as many candidates or party committees as they wish.
"We’ve never limited the amount that an individual donor can give to a whole group of candidates," said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota campaign finance board. "We don’t limit at all the amount of money that an individual can give to a party."
Minnesota does place limits on how much candidates can accept from certain types of donors but Goldsmith said those restrictions were not considered by the court.
Other states, including Wisconsin, do have laws to limit the aggregate donations a contributor can spend in an election cycle, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Those nine states' laws may be directly impacted by the federal decision.
The Supreme Court did not overturn the concept of limiting what a campaign can accept from a donor. Currently, donors are limited to giving $5,200 per candidate per election cycle to federal candidates. Minnesota law puts similar restrictions on what an individual can give to a single candidate.
The court's decision will have a much more far reaching impact on federal campaigns and parties, including those from Minnesota.
DFL chair Ken Martin said the ruling allows parties to tap donors for funds, even if those donors had already given to multiple other parties or candidates.
"It has a big impact on state parties," said Martin.
Currently, donors are limited to giving $123,200 for 2013 and 2014 in total to all federal campaigns. That limit made federal cash difficult to raise, Martin said. The Minnesota parties were not limited to what they could raise from individuals in their state committees.
After the decision, Minnesota parties will be able to raise more federal money -- up to $10,000 per individual -- from donors whether or not those individuals had already given to many other federal committees.
"That is hugely helpful to state parties," Martin said. He said the lifting of the overall cap will mean that parties can be more involved in helping federal candidates "up and down the ballot here in Minnesota."
Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey said the decision may mean candidates and parties will be able to raise more.
"It will serve to direct campaign spending toward those who are closest to the public and most publicly accountable for their campaign activities. It also underscores the importance of both transparency and the protection of political speech, which are so important in our political process," Downey said.
Several donors with Minnesota ties have contributed enough in 2013 that they could have bumped up against the limit the court struck down.
According to a Star Tribune analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics, John Grundhofer, former chairman of U.S. Bancorps, donated $142,200 through the end of last year and Patricia Grundhofer, whose is listed on federal documents as the director of the John F. Grundhofer Charitable Foundation, donated $125,600. They gave primarily to non-Minnesota Republican committees.
Stanley Hubbard, head of Hubbard Broadcasting and a a frequent donor to state as well as federal causes, gave nearly $100,000 to federal committees last year alone. He said that every election cycle he gets many calls soliciting donations and he has to refuse them because he is maxed out.
Hubbard has a simple prediction for what will happen now that the court rejected the overall limits: "They are going to start calling."
Star Tribune data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.
Vice President Joe Biden will visit Minnesota later for this month for a high-dollar fundraiser.
According to an invitation obtained by the Star Tribune, the vice president will be in Minneapolis on Feb. 19 for a dinner at Minneapolis' Bachelor Farmer restaurant.
The dinner will raise funds for the Democratic National Committee with donations topping out for co-hosts at $32,000.
The Bachelor Farmer, which hosted a lunch for President Obama in 2012, is owned by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's sons.
Biden visited Minnesota to rally supporters in 2012, in 2011 he touched down for a fundraiser for the Obama campaign and in 2010 for a fundraiser for Dayton and a rally.
FBI agents have searched the home of former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a top official in U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, his lawyer told the Star Tribune Wednesday.
The search, conducted two weeks ago, appeared focused on communications between various campaign operatives and Sorenson, who abruptly quit as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman in the closing days of the Iowa Republican caucuses and threw his support behind Ron Paul.
“It was a very thorough federal criminal search warrant,” said Des Moines attorney Ted Sporer, who represents Sorenson. “It’s pretty obvious they are looking for communications with a presidential campaign, or third parties working for a presidential campaign.”
Both the Bachmann and Paul campaigns have come under scrutiny for allegedly making secret payments to Sorenson, a Christian conservative and Tea Party activist who recently resigned from the Iowa Senate under an ethics cloud.
According to Sporer, agents took computers and other mater materials connected to Sorenson’s work with both campaigns, suggesting that the federal probe into Bachmann’s campaign finances is far from over. A person who answered Sorenson's phone Wednesday said he was not available for comment.
The FBI field office in Omaha referred questions about the raid to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Iowa, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Star Tribune. A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington said he could provide no information.
Two former aides to the Minnesota Republican told the Star Tribune in May that they had been questioned by FBI agents from the bureau’s public integrity section. Central to the FBI inquiry were alleged payments to Sorenson.
But recent allegations of payments by Paul operatives appear to have broadened the scope of the federal inquiry.
“It’s hard to unravel,” Sporer told the Star Tribune. “I don’t know if it’s a series of related investigations, or if it’s one big investigation, or multiple unrelated investigations. My gut instinct is it’s one investigation.”
Sporer said Sorenson, now working in real estate, cooperated with the agents while his wife took their home-schooled children and left the house during the search.
“I wouldn’t call it a raid,” Sporer said. “It wasn’t unanticipated….It’s our intention to cooperate at all stages. Obviously, we don’t think Mr. Sorenson was involved in any wrongdoing.”
An account of the raid was initially reported online Wednesday by libertarian economist Robert Wenzel in the Economic Policy Journal. Wenzel, citing two unnamed sources, said agents spent seven hours in Sorenson’s Des Moines area home scouring through family computers.
A special investigator for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee found “probable cause” earlier this year that Sorenson broke state rules by taking money for presidential campaign work, including a $7,500 monthly salary from Bachmann’s political action committee and an uncashed $25,000 check from an operative in the Paul campaign.
Among the allegations swirling around Sorenson are reports that he could provide the Paul campaign with a pilfered list of Iowa home school activists taken from the personal computer of Bachmann campaign staffer Barb Heki, who later settled with the Bachmann campaign for an undisclosed sum.
Bachmann initially accused Sorenson of switching allegiances for money. Bus she remained publicly silent about whether he was paid for work he did on behalf of her own campaign. Neither her campaign attorney nor her congressional office responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Sorenson has steadfastly denied being paid by either campaign.
The alleged payments are now the subject of inquiries by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and the House Ethics Committee.
The Star Tribune also has obtained documents indicating a federal grand jury probe of several top Bachmann campaign operatives, including Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. Among the records that have been subpoenaed by the Justice Department are financial registers of the National Fiscal Conservative (NFC) Political Action Committee, which allegedly agreed to help raise funds for a campaign mailer ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Federal authorities also are looking at allegations of potentially illegal coordination between the Bachmann campaign and the NFC PAC, as well as with Bachmann’s own political action committee, MichelePAC, which reportedly paid Sorenson through Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short.
Bachmann announced last spring that she would not seek another term in Congress.
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