Tag Archives: Campaign Finance

A Tale of Two Cities: The Plight of Local Politics

A tale of two cities…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was…”          -Charles Dickens

With just days until the 2014 election, Minnesota candidates were just required to submit their campaign financial data to the state to make it public record.  In my district, 58, Lakeville/Farmington and most of the rest of Southern Dakota County, the campaigns on the A and B sides are vastly different.

On the 58A side, which is most of Lakeville, Amy Willingham and Jon Koznick are competing against each other to win the open seat vacated by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg.  The two candidates are very evenly matched in donations, with Koznick edging out Willingham $41,964.77 to $41,558.29.  Together they have collected over $83,000!  That is a huge number in our area.  To put that in perspective, in 2012, Mary Liz Holberg and Colin Lee raised $26,433 collectively, and if you add in the 58th district senate race between Dave Thompson and Andrew Brobston, the total for all four candidates was $68,291.  Willingham and Koznick, have spent more than those four candidates raised in 2012.

On the other side of the district in 58B, the numbers are nowhere similar.  Incumbent Rep. Pat Garofalo has raised $13,038 this year, of course he started the year with over $52,000 in the bank, so he didn’t have to raise much, and Marla Vagts raised $7,065.  Together they raised just over $20,000, and one quarter of that was from the state public subsidy.

In summary, A side = $83,000. B side = $20,000.

It is understandable, that the A side would be higher, it is an open and contested seat, but there is another side to look at on the A side.  Both Willingham and Koznick have received over $5,000 each in individual identified donations from outside the district, and combined, have received over $10,000 from PACs and lobbyists.  In addition, together they have over $35,000 in unidentified donations, which probably increases those outside the district contributions.

Of course that is not surprising.  There are so many groups trying to influence elections, I expect it.  But that does not make it right.  Koznick and Willingham have raised more money from outside the district, than Garofalo and Vagts have raised total.  There is a fundamental problem with our election system when other people outside the district have as big of an impact on the election as the local voters – if not a bigger impact on the election.

When I hear people say government doesn’t work, well get a clue!  Where do you think it starts?  Right here, right now, on November 4th, and the 6-10 months leading up to that day.  If we want government to work, our election system needs to change to be about local voters, and local voters only!

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An epiphany about political involvement – money has to get out of politics

I’ve had two epiphanies about politics in the last week. First, politics is too time consuming. Shocking I know. Second, politics is too money consuming. Neither of which I have much to spare, and like many people, I’m beginning to question whether my personal commitment is too great for the amount of satisfaction I receive in return.

This Thursday, I am hosting a fundraiser for Mike Obermueller at my home. When all is said and done, my mom (who graciously offered to help) and I will have spent over $200 on food and drinks. But it isn’t just the cost of food to have a get-together, it’s the little expenses to fix and clean the house that adds up too. Now you have to realize that we never have people over to our house. It is small, poorly laid out (a family birthday party is uncomfortably tight,) the cement and blacktop need serious work (I hope nobody trips and sues us,) we have a dog, two cats, and three smelly boys that quickly turn furniture into pieces homeless teen shelters wouldn’t accept, and don’t get me started on the carpet.

Needless to say, it is uncomfortable for us to have guests over. But when we do, we feel the need to fix all those little things we tend to procrastinate on fixing. Getting a new toilet seat to replace the cracked one. Our dining room chairs need new fabric on the seats since we got a new table. The valance above the patio door needs to be fixed or replaced, and that lacrosse ball hole in the wall should probably be fixed. It costs a fair amount of money to host a fundraiser from that standpoint, for things a majority of people wouldn’t even notice or care about if they did notice. By the way we are not spending the $12,000 to fix the driveway. I just hope the air conditioner survives the week…

When you combine our little foray into the world of fundraising with our desire to support our local candidates who bravely put themselves out there to run for office, we are spending a fair amount of money that should be going into our boy’s college funds, well, probably my vacation fund is more realistic…

The cost of being involved in politics is draining. I think it makes people who might like to be involved in political activities uncomfortable. There are pressures to donate. Each candidate running for state office needs to raise a minimum amount of cash to receive the state campaign funds. For House candidates, it is $1,500 and for Senate candidates it is $3,000 by July 23. What makes it challenging is that no amount in contributions over $50 from any individual counts toward that goal. So candidates who start late have to push to raise the right amount of cash in the right increments. And the activists are the first people asked. Not only are they asked, but they are practically guilted into it. Trust me I know, I begged people to donate this year to our candidates in DFL58. And once they donate, they are on the donation lists and begin getting regular calls from the DFL and the DCCC asking for money.

Some people say they don’t donate cash, but they donate their time. I do that, and it is just as draining, maybe more. I probably spend as much time as anybody in our district, outside of Jeanne and Charlie Thomas, working on DFL projects. But that time is time I should be spending doing other things probably. I am pretty good about going to my children’s events, but I want to finish some things to advance my career, I hardly ever write, I seldom play golf, I need to lose more than a few pounds, and all the junk I do for the DFL is taking away from some serious television and movie watching! In my case, I think that not only am I spending money on politics, I’m losing money by not concentrating on things to make more money. I’m not doing things I would enjoy much more, and although I would not enjoy it, let’s face it, a little more exercise would do me good.

My wife and I spent last night talking about what we do and whether what we do is worth it. This morning at a Bible study I attend (Monday mornings, 6:30 AM at Caribou on 185th in Lakeville. Feel free to join us, it is casual, friendly, Lutheran led, but not Lutheran specific, and we have a couple of open seats at the table.) my father-in-law said he just finished a book that asks the question of organizations why are you an organization. The question on the giant chalk board at Caribou today was something to the effect of “if you had a personal guiding principle what would it be?”

I’m trying to answer those questions and I think a lot of people are asking those questions about politics. Is being involved in politics worth it? Why are we involved in politics? If we had a personal motto, would anything vaguely political be part of it? People look at politics very cynically right now. How much money will be raised to win a local house race? Probably $25,000, most of it spent on advertisements mailed to homes that are more often than not thrown away without being read. And what do they get in return? $40,000 and a load of headaches. What about the Senate Race? Amy Klobuchar has $5,000,000 raised so far. In 2008 Barack Obama spent $730,000,000, what’s it going to be this year? A billion?

So even people who want to be involved are asking themselves “What’s the point?” Is it worth it? What do I get out of it? Small factions of people control politics and it’s distressing. There is nothing more disturbing to me than the partisanship shown by politicians towards constituents on the other side of the political spectrum. But I can’t do anything about it because if I were to help elect a DFLer, in most instances, the same thing would happen, just in the other direction.

When money is out of politics, or maybe I should say IF money is ever taken out of politics and people are truly elected on their own merits and on their beliefs, then people who shun politics might come back. But when we are rigging systems with hoops to jump through to vote with things like advanced registration and voter ID, or the Supreme Court telling Montana that all those years that Montana tried to keep money from influencing politics, Montana was wrong, or when we learn that a majority of the time members of the House serve in Washington is spent fundraising or at least rubbing elbows to open doors for fundraising for the next election, we decide it isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the time, energy, cash or frustration, when the 5 hours or the $200 can be used for something that significantly affects your own life. That’s what even hardcore activists are becoming. The base is smaller and smaller, and the crazies are becoming more prevalent. The normal person is stepping to the side and deciding to forget about it. It’s not about a belief anymore, it’s about sides. I’m happy when my team wins and pissed when my team loses. And politics is returning to the smoke filled rooms of yesterday, only the rooms aren’t smoke filled anymore from cigars and cigarettes, they are smoke filled because of the screen those people are trying to hide behind.

Politics needs to change; I just don’t see that it will happen. I’d make the analogy that it’s like a marriage, and the divorce papers are being prepared, but I know a family that broke up because of commitments to politics, and it just wouldn’t be right.