Handle with care

While campaigning for the four-year term he held as state auditor, Minnesota Senator-elect Mark Dayton made a promise to work for $1 per year. He kept his promise.
On Nov. 30, however, he nearly reversed a similar pledge he had made during the campaign saying he might need the annual Senate salary of $141,000. Two days later he rightly recommitted himself to his original promise to work for only $1 for each year he represents Minnesota in Congress. As a result of his hefty campaign expenses — which totaled $11 million in loans and donations, and $4 million in tax penalties and fees — Dayton said he might not be able to live off the dollar salary. It was his choice, however, to spend such an extraordinary amount of money essentially buying the senate seat. It was also his choice to commit himself to such a low salary.
Dayton’s extravagant campaign spending helped make the Minnesota Senate race the nation’s third most expensive Senate race this year. Because Dayton used his personal wealth as a platform for his campaign, he must keep his word. Though it lured many voters who believed Dayton was beyond the reach of special interests as a result of his personal spending, the amount of money he spent also caused many voters to conclude that Dayton was attempting to buy the Senate seat.
Dayton added to that speculation when, at a Capitol news conference, he said he would cosponsor a bill that would require all federal government contracts to have above poverty-wages. Though a positive step for the federal government, this bill — to be called the Federal Living Wage Responsibility Act — appears to alter the legality of Dayton’s promise. His $1 per year wage falls well below the poverty line, causing the public to be skeptical about his intentions in cosponsoring this act.
But sticking to his word would certainly help to curb further speculation by Republican chairman Ron Eibensteiner that Dayton made the campaign promise only to help him get elected, while never intending to keep it.
Dayton’s staff claims, however, that Dayton was merely thinking out loud and considering all his financial options when he made the comment about needing more than $1-per-year salary. Dayton himself acknowledged that he was wrong to consider accepting the senate salary he had rejected earlier.
State GOP Executive Director Tony Sutton, however, claims the damage has already been done.
Failing to carry out campaign promises is what often prompts the public to view politicians with cynical eyes. The stereotype that politicians will say anything to get elected has made nonvoters out of many U.S. citizens. Politicians must be constantly aware of this if they are to regain the trust of their constituents. By maintaining his original promise, Dayton helped toward this end.
To his credit, Dayton supports campaign finance reform, another necessary political aim if politicians want the public’s respect. Though his excessive campaign spending appears incongruous with his declared dedication to campaign finance reform, he is nonetheless right to pursue this goal in Congress. He believes reforms are necessary because it is common practice for politicians to accept money from political action committees — a practice some refer to as a “legalized form of bribery” between special interest groups and public officials.
In the end, Dayton deserves some credit; he is doing a lot to change the face of politics in Minnesota. Dayton is proving that taking the high road is not always the easiest route. But to maintain his public support, he must keep his promises and continue working for the public.