First, a big “thank you!” to whoever leaked Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan’s memo to the party’s Executive Committee, laying out her case for a 10 percent cut on “big contributions” (“GOP chief seeks cut of donations to party,” Jan. 18). We The People needed to know this.
Carnahan wrote in her memo: “Fundraising is the most important part of politics.” To understand how horribly wrong things have gone in Minnesota recently, let’s examine the history of party and candidate money.
Fundraising for Minnesota candidates and parties benefits from two public programs. One is a voluntary tax checkoff — on income and property tax forms, individuals can send $5 to a designated party or a nonpartisan account. Unfortunately, participation in this program has declined steadily, from 27 percent in 1977 to 5 percent in 2014.
A second program, the Political Contribution Refund (PCR), provides Minnesotans a dollar-for-dollar tax refund for annual contributions up to $50 a year ($100 for a married couple) to either state political campaigns or (and this is crucial) state political parties. When Gov. Tim Pawlenty unallotted the PCR in 2009, the state GOP had been averaging about $1.8 million each year since 2002.
Back then, big money was not the vital root of Minnesota’s Republican Party. Unfortunately, that’s not true today. In 2016, Stanley Hubbard alone contributed $185,000 of the state party’s total cash receipts of $827,920. Carnahan — a novice who received two-thirds of her state Senate campaign’s $4,500 in itemized cash donations from Hubbard Broadcasting employees — needs to be personally educated about this sad history.
Here’s more evidence of destruction from Pawlenty’s attack on the PCR: In 2002 and 2006 — election years for governor — the state GOP received about 33,000 and 26,000 contributions, respectively, from the PCR program. But in 2010 — with the PCR eliminated — the total number of contributors dropped to 60. The average dollar amount went way up — from $68 for 2006 PCR contributions to almost $40,000 each for “big money” contributors in 2010. Still, it wasn’t enough: $1.8 million in annual average missing PCR money, combined with then-Chair Tony Sutton’s mismanagement and $170,000 in reporting fines, caused big contributors to pull back — resulting in a de facto state Republican Party bankruptcy.
But there’s been an even bigger negative impact at the Legislature. When the PCR and the tax checkoff money were legislative mainstays, pragmatic, practical, independent-thinking citizens (not ideologues) could and did get elected to the Legislature in large numbers — and from both parties. They could organize their friends — along with caucusgoers who “had a life.” Regular, everyday people could afford to run competitive campaigns with PCR contributions and public tax checkoff money.
The PCR is running today — after years without funding. But in the meantime, our process has become totally dominated by massive outside expenditures for contested legislative races and by increasingly polarized, ideological party bases. Sadly, we seem beyond the era of independent-minded legislators from both parties who could and did work together.
And, of course, we have President Donald Trump, a complete disaster at the federal level and a major distortion (at best) in our “political space-time” at the state level.
In 2010, I ran for governor for the first time, alarmed at the Tea Party movement’s tendency toward intimidation tactics and by Tom Emmer’s fling with what amounted to support for nullification — a principle that led directly to the Civil War. I’m running again, both to advance a new constitutional theory of impeachment (Trump should either resign or be impeached) — and also to offer Minnesota Republicans a “Trump alternative” candidate with a platform building on the many good things that Minnesota Republicans still represent at the state level.
But let’s be clear: There is nothing good about the trend toward the de facto corporate takeover of our state’s political system. Carnahan’s new deal is just the latest symptom. I was the first person to sue Pawlenty over his unallotment of the PCR, and I’ll continue to fight the growing corporate and big-money dominance of our state political process with everything I’ve got.
Bob “Again” Carney Jr., of Minneapolis, is seeking the Republican Party endorsement for governor.