Commentary

Standing up to special interests — Opinion

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Today, we are at the crossroads. On the one hand, we have the growing threats of climate change, which threatens us with fires, droughts and violent weather. On the other hand, we have a government that is increasingly being captured by special interests, which — as a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United — are able to flood the campaign coffers of incumbents with massive amounts of funding.

Here in Minnesota, legislative caucuses of both parties have fully embraced this new wealth. In 2020, the caucuses went into the campaigns having raised more than $25 million. If this were to be averaged out evenly between the 201 members of the Legislature, the amount available to each incumbent would be a staggering $130,000. And this is money only from the caucus and does not include funds from the party or contributions to candidate committees.

This, along with partisan staffs that match or exceed those of political parties, certainly gives incumbents a huge reelection advantage. But, it comes at a cost to the public. A recent study by two professors at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs concluded that generous donors were accorded special treatment by legislators, including being able to “shape“ legislation. We fully agree that money influences policy. For two legislative sessions, we repeatedly petitioned the governor and lawmakers for hearings on legislation designed to protect the waters of Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.

Time and again, we pointed out the dangers of allowing the PolyMet and Twin Metals sulfide mining projects to become reality. Others petitioned for answers about Enbridge Line 3, which even the Minnesota Department of Commerce declared was not needed. 

At no point was there any willingness of elected officials to hold hearings or respond to legitimate inquiries. The governor and legislative leaders simply stonewalled. We could not even get an answer as to why they denied a request by Minnesota’s health community for a study of the drinking waters that would be affected by the seepage from the mines.

We pointed out the record of international corruption and environmental damage caused by the foreign corporations that own PolyMet and Twin Metals. We further noted the appalling lack of safety involved with Enbridge’s Line 3. We lauded the governor of Michigan for taking decisive action in ordering the Enbridge pipeline project across Lake Michigan to close. 

But, here in Minnesota, we have been unable to even get a hearing, while big money donors were able to “shape“ legislation. Now, many legislators will say this is not “pay-to-play.“  If that be the case, then please tell the public what it is.

All of us have a responsibility to play a role in our governance. We must engage and engage now before it is too late. We cannot allow the forces of greed and the short term thinking that would convert public assets into private gain. Our quality drinking water is our most valuable and essential asset. It must not be for sale.

We can begin by adopting a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on Minnesota’s constitutional officers and legislators. Caucus fundraising must be abolished — along with partisan staffs — and replaced by a system that provides robust public funding for campaigns as it is done elsewhere.

As authors of “The Future is Today“ we welcome a broad public debate that will allow us to build a government that is focused on the long term well-being of the public and only that. Please download and read our report here.  

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Arne Carlson
Arne Carlson

Arne Carlson was the governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1998. A 2000 St. Paul Pioneer Press poll named Carlson one of the three outstanding Minnesota statesmen of the 20th century, the others being Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey.

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Janet Entzel

Janet Entzel was a DFL state representative from Minneapolis from 1975 to 1984.

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Chris Knopf
Chris Knopf

Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, has worked for more than 25 years to protect, preserve and restore our wild places. Prior to joining the Friends of the Boundary Waters, he was a practicing environmental attorney, served as the Ohio office director for The Trust for Public Land and worked as a major gifts officer with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.

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Duke Skorich
Duke Skorich

Duke Skorich founded Zenith Research Group in 1983 while news director at a television station in Duluth. He's the only person to have anchored the news on the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates in Duluth. He was also the host of a talk radio program on Wisconsin Public Radio for many years. Skorich remains the president of Zenith Research, with a variety of clients in the Upper Midwest.

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Tom Berkelman

Tom Berkelman was a DFL lawmaker representing Duluth for four terms in the Minnesota House. He also worked in state and federal governmental affairs for nearly 30 years.

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