Although this year’s Senate race won’t be decided for another six months, Republican Party leaders are already anxious and on the attack. Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Chris Georgacas recently charged incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., with accepting illegal campaign contributions. The accusations appear groundless, but Republicans continue to hold Wellstone accountable to standards much higher than their own.
At issue is a favorite Democratic fund-raising mechanism, called “tallying,” that politicians such as Wellstone use to help support other candidates in their party. Senators who play the “tallying” card pledge to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that is used exclusively for general party purposes. Federal Election Committee regulations prohibit the DSCC from earmarking money earned from “tallying” to particular candidates. Georgacas claimed that Wellstone’s campaign team accepted money directly from the DSCC, but he backpedaled when it was revealed that United Transportation Union bundled its contributions to Senate candidates and the DSCC. The DSCC merely sent Wellstone the money intended for him by the labor union. The FEC recognizes the bundling practice as legal and common.
Georgacas, nevertheless, is demanding the FEC investigate the matter. Meanwhile, he is pointing to Wellstone’s $4.5 million campaign fund to allege that the senator’s reform efforts are insincere. On the contrary, Wellstone is refusing out-of-state political action committee contributions and gave up his promise to refuse individual donations for more than $100 only after Republican leaders stymied his campaign reform legislation. Republican Party candidate Rudy Boschwitz, on the other hand, has only managed to rake in $2.1 million — even though 68 percent of his donations come from financial interests outside of Minnesota.
Georgacas is distressed that incumbents attract disproportionate amounts of financial support, but Republicans didn’t complain six years ago when Boschwitz outspent Wellstone by a 4-1 ratio in the 1990 Senate election. Wellstone should make a point of knowing where his contributions are coming from, but he nevertheless remains a feisty and committed leader among campaign finance reformers in Congress.
While Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., remains frustratingly silent about congressional efforts to reform campaign finance regulations before the November election, Wellstone is at the forefront of a bipartisan group of legislators who are demanding that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., bring the issue to the floor for discussion before Memorial Day. Wellstone is also throwing his support behind the McCain-Feingold bill that would ban PACcontributions and set limits on total contributions to congressional campaigns.
Many Senate candidates across the country will have to shell out at least $6 million to compete, but Wellstone is one of only a few who concede the implicit corruption and is persistent in demands for change. Until the Minnesota Republican Party is willing to join forces with campaign finance reformers, their leaders have no right to question Wellstone’s fund-raising tactics or the sincerity of his determination to enact change.