Wellstone to address campaign finance reform

Chris Vetter

Sen. Paul Wellstone weathered an intense barrage of attack ads to win reelection to his seat, and now he’s hoping to build public support for making the attack campaigns harder to fund.
Wellstone and Minnesota Reform Party leader Dean Barkley announced plans at the state Capitol Wednesday to hold a town meeting on plans for campaign finance reform.
“This is a time that we can jolt the political process,” Wellstone said. “This is as good of a chance (for reform) as ever. People are sick of all the money. They are sick of the attack ads.”
Wellstone said he and Barkley have contacted most of Minnesota’s congressmen, and there appears to be interest in the town meeting. The meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22. The location has yet to be determined, but will probably be held in the Capitol, Wellstone said.
Citizens will be able to come and express their opinions to representatives on how they would like to see campaign finance laws changed.
Current laws allow political parties to raise unlimited “soft money” which can be used for issue advocacy — as opposed to advertising for particular candidates — and which can be used in state-level elections. The Supreme Court has ruled limitations on campaign spending by candidates to be unconstitutional.
Barkley, who ran against Wellstone in the 1996 senate race, said campaign finance reform is needed to take “special interest money” out of politics.
“There have been a lot of scandals,” Barkley said. “Like the Indonesian money in the Democratic Party. The public is disgusted.”
The campaign finance laws, developed in 1974, do not level the playing field between challengers and incumbents, Barkley said.
“People have come to realize that the reforms installed after Watergate don’t work, and need to be fixed,” Barkley said.
Wellstone, who has fought for restrictions on gifts from lobbyists and campaign finance reforms in the past, said he plans to introduce legislation in the 105th Congress that will ban “soft money” contributions and ban Political Action Committee (PACs) contributions to candidates, while providing public funding to candidates who agree to spending limits. The presidential race already uses public financing and has spending limits.
The spending limit would free elected officials from always having to raise money, Wellstone said. “This way, people can not spend all their time raising money,” he said.
But Frank Sorauf, a University professor of political science, said the Wellstone/McCain/Feingold Act, as the Senate proposal is called, may be too little, too late.
“These proposals are like moving deck chairs on the Titanic, because of the loopholes and issue-advocacy ads which are attacking candidates with no regulations,” Sorauf said.
Barkley said he supports Wellstone’s efforts to fix campaign finance laws because the laws need to be changed to be fair to challengers.
“Wellstone has been one of the few voices trying to get honest reform done in Congress,” Barkley said. “I think we’ve got to set an example. This is a perfect chance to get the ball rolling.”
Governor gives State of State address today
The University likely won’t know much more about their chances of receiving their 1996-97 budget request today after the unveiling of the governor’s budget.
Gov. Arne Carlson will give the annual State of the State address in the House of Representatives chamber of the Capitol at noon.
University officials will pay attention as Carlson speaks about his spending proposals for the legislative session, but Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak said the governor won’t give too many specifics for the University.
“I’m personally not expecting a lot,” Marshak said.
The University is asking for an increase of approximately $115.5 million per year for the next two years from the Legislature this session. The $580 million per year request represents about a 17 percent increase above the amount the University received from the Legislature last session.
With nearly a $1.4 billion state surplus this year, several organizations are hoping to receive extra funding from the Legislature.