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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Rep. Joe Atkins & IGH BEST - Nothing To See Here

Category: Congressional Races
Posted: 09/24/15 19:00

by Dave Mindeman

Everybody knows that I am not a big fan of money influences in politics... and I have difficulty dismissing lobbyists and corporate donors trying to stuff the coffers of legislators without expecting something in return.

But there is a story that MPR put out regarding Rep. Joe Atkins and a non-profit that gives scholarships to high school kids in his area that seems to insinuate a little more than is really there.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group, has criticized the corporate donations that go to the Atkins' directed non-profit (called IGH BEST) indicating that there is corporate influence going on. I'm not sure how Holman was tipped off about this connection....one has to wonder if the possibility of Atkins' getting into the Congressional race caused some anonymous e-mail flurries, and although his criticism has some merit, I don't think it rises to the same level as, say, John Kline and the For Profit Colleges.

Joe Atkins is the lead Democrat on the Commerce Committee and policy made there does have effects on corporate business. But if Atlanta based Delta is worrying about a Minnesota legislative committee and a Democrat on the committee who is not the chair, I think there might be more influential places to park their dollars than a local scholarship fund. The article goes back to 1996 when the fund accumulated funds of $184,000 which went to 124 scholarships. And it should be noted that this was before Atkins was elected to the legislature in 2002. A look at the web page shows that in 2014, the non-profit brought in $160,250 which funded 120 scholarships. Doesn't really look like the corporate coffers opened up once Atkins hit the legislature.

In fact, like many non-profits, the corporate donor base seems to be remaining fairly consistent on an annual basis. The fact that Joe Atkins is a legislator may keep the donations coming, as a courtesy, but I have a hard time seeing this as any kind of "influence pedaling".

Joe Atkins has not indicated that he will run for the 2nd District Congressional seat as yet. If he does, he will be a good addition to the race....if he doesn't Democrats would be happy to keep him in the legislature. That part is up to him.

But maybe somebody doesn't want him to run and are trying to label him with a negative story before he even gets out of the gate.

It's been known to happen.

But as for the story itself, there is nothing to see here.
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Taking Stock Of Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District Race

Category: Congressional Races
Posted: 07/19/15 13:43

by Dave Mindeman

Alright you DFLers in the 2nd District. I am going to share some idea (Postive and Negative) thoughts I have about our 2nd District Congressional candidates, and the race in general, and I want you to help with some explanations.

I don't have particularly strong feelings on any of this, but let's just say I'm thinking out loud. So here goes....

Mary Lawrence - It would seem that Lawrence is willing to commit a good deal of her own resources into her 2nd District run. According to the financial report, she has "loaned" the campaign about $800,000. That is a lot of money. Still, a full commitment will be more evident if she actually puts that money into action within the district.

As to the other funds that she has raised (a bit more modest), a lot of it comes from Wall Street. Donors from Bain Capital, Vestar Capital Partners, Williams Capital Group, Ameriprise Financial, Morgan Stanley, JANA Partners, AIG, Century Park Capital, Black Rock...pepper her financial report. Their are other corporates like Robert Pohlad of Pepsi Americas and Michael White of DIRECTV. (I could not help but notice a $250 contribution from the CFO of PolyMet mining.) And yes, there are some significant small donors through ACT BLUE.

I imagine it is hard to raise the kind of sums needed without tapping into corporate contacts. That seems to be where we are at in this campaign finance world. But it still is hard to imagine that a person can head to Congress and make purely independent decisions with corporate baggage trailing your every move.

Lawrence makes no secret that she will be a pro-business candidate. We will have to let her tell us what that means. Will she back higher minimum wages? Will she support labor in forming more unions? Will she hold the banks accountable? Those questions need to be answered during this campaign.

In addition, Lawrence should make an honest statement about her plan for the endorsement. She may lose some support with an open move to a primary, but I've always felt that pretense on seeking an endorsement is worse. Appearances say she will opt to run in the primary.

I would like to hear some candor....but right now I don't hear much of anything.

Angie Craig - Craig's donor list is built largely with ACT BLUE, but her bigger donors are peppered with St. Jude executives, although that is understandable since that has been her place of employment for a number of years. Other larger donors are more diversified and come from a broader range of professions. The donations are not as large as the ones that appear in the Lawrence report. And Craig has a more modest $7600 in personal loans to the campaign.

Craig is committed to the endorsement. It is the basis of her strategy. And she can make the claim that she outraised Kline during the last cycle. A claim that few who run against him can make. But Craig only has $230,000 cash on hand. Kline has double that and Lawrence, with her $1 million in the bank, could dwarf all of them, should she decide to really spend some of those resources.

Craig will need to keep up with monetary expectations and maintaining that kind of pace will be a challenge. Especially when she will have a possible primary campaign to wage, while Kline watches with token opposition.

She seems like a very progressive candidate. The majority of her issues take the progressive view. She stands with the ACA with the possible exception of the repeal of the Medical Device Tax - (she has clearly stated her support of Erik Paulsen's repeal action) - but overall that seems to be a corporate aberration rather than a sign of supporting corporate ideas.

There is a different dynamic in play for the 2nd District. One of my concerns is the lack of political experience that both candidates have. Mary Lawrence has had significant political connections but she is not very polished in her interactions with the various DFL units...and has not been a resident in this district very long. Craig is more personable but is also a political neophyte and it remains to be seen as to whether or not she can get into the trenches with Kline and stay afloat.

Craig has significant endorsements, including Mike Obermueller who ran against Kline in the last two cycles. Lawrence would seem to have more potential financial resources - especially if she is willing to utilize her own financial wealth, as the early report would seem to indicate.

Looming ahead of them is John Kline. He generally chooses to ignore his opponent until the campaign season gets into full swing. He bottles himself up in his Washington cocoon and stays above the fray. The key to success in taking on John Kline is to get him to engage...to force him to address his record and statements....to make him feel some pressure.

He does not react well to pressure.

It has been good to see some early action in the 2nd District. To see candidates willing to take this race seriously.

How much the 2nd District is in play will be more evident early next year. But the signs are encouraging in that regard.
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It's The Money, Stupid!

Category: Congressional Races
Posted: 07/16/15 20:13

by Dave Mindeman

In the politics section of MPR, reporter Catherine Richert did a posting on the 2nd District money race.

It was accurate and timely, but how come it takes money to get any kind of discussion going? and why can't it be about issues and not just the dollars?

Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence both had favorable money totals in comparison to John Kline. Craig's contributions from others outpace even Kline himself...and that is worth noting. But any kind of substance about the issues involved in the second district seemed to be lacking. The few notations that came up were tangential.

When Richert talked about outside donors, she did mention the large donations to Kline from the ForProfit college industry...but there was no mention of how much Kline influences legislation that affects that industry. And no follow up with Kline himself.

And Richert seemed to be implying that Craig's donations were just as much from outside groups even though she quoted the spokesman press release that noted 400 out of over 1000 individual donnors were outside Minnesota. In today's money appeals, that seems pretty normal.

The entire article was derived from press releases and FEC reports. Only press release quotes were used to denote candidate input.

Wouldn't it be appropriate for a news report to look for candidate reactions and deeper explanations of these reports? Shouldn't there be more of a dialogue to inform the electorate?

Money pervades so many aspects of campaigns these days that the money becomes the story.

Yes, the 2nd District DFL candidates are doing well in the money race, but shouldn't there be more substance to all of this than dollar signs?

No wonder the press hovers over every Trump utterance.
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