consultants are sandburs

Thursday, September 06, 2012

What do these PAC and lobbying plaintiffs have to hide? Why do they resist transparancy and sunshine's disinfecting benefits, wanting instead an Iron Curtain hiding their activities and standing between them and the citizens wanting campaign fundraising and spending disclosure? What agenda lies behind their will toward secrecy, and what is the clear warning to citizens? Harold Hamilton, and PAC-related inconsistency and disclosure opposition - some stuff okay, some barked at.

Reporting, MinnPost, here. Judicial opinion posted online by MinnPost, here.

Read it all. It represents a defeat for all who want to know who is doing what in terms of campaign money.

Note particularly the two uber-active ultra-rightwing operations not wanting sunshine shining at all upon their fund raising and spending:


That's right - the anti-gay and anti-choice bigots, and our state's loudest anti-tax political activists. Early in her reporting of the anti-sunshine litigation effort of these two long standing statewide PACs, Beth Hawkins of MinnPost wrote:

The Eighth Circuit’s 6-5 decision left intact the portion of the 2010 Minnesota law barring direct contributions to candidates or political parties by corporations and organizations, citing a clear line drawn by the U.S. Supreme Court between the two types of spending.

“What this does do is it strikes down the remaining restrictions on independent expenditures,” said David Schultz, a professor at the Hamline University School of Business and an expert on campaign finance law.

“If Target wants to drop its entire corporate treasury to defeat, say, someone in the Legislature,” he added, “they can do so without having to establish a political fund or political committee or having to disclose that they were spending all that money to influence a state election.”

Technically, the appellate panel sent the case back to a state court for rehearing, reasoning that the portion of the law mandating disclosure was “most likely unconstitutional.” In practice, the opinion renders the law unenforceable [... as to disclosure requirements.]

Hawkins added:

The Minnesota law requiring corporations and groups to set up a political committee or PAC and report on its activities creates “onerous” impediments to political discourse, Eighth Circuit Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote.

Citing language from prior cases, the circuit court judges ruled Wednesday, “Independent expenditures are indisputably political speech, and any restrictions on those expenditures strike ‘at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms.’ And ‘protection of political speech is the very stuff of the First Amendment,' ” the circuit court judges ruled Wednesday.

“Because political ‘speech is an essential mechanism of democracy,’ ‘the means to hold officials accountable to the people,’ ‘a precondition of enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it,’ ‘political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence,’” they concluded.

The judges relied heavily in their reasoning on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the court ruled 5-4 that political spending is a form of free speech protected by the U.S. constitution and corporations, labor unions and other groups have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

So, it is considered free speech, under First Amendment protection; and it is noteworthy that such speech is nondenominational - it can be Dems or GOP using the rationale behind the flawed Citizens United decision, now that it is law. It is not as if the Republicans took out a patent on PACs, Super-PACs, or advocacy groups to where Dems or nonpartisan independents are excluded from the table. It is agnostic that way, and if Dems or nonpartisan efforts on occasion use the availability of Citizens United for their own leverage purposes, that is simply fine payback to the Republicans who foisted the thing off on the nation. Hawkins' MinnPost reporting continued:

The groups still cannot donate directly to candidates or parties but can freely engage in so-called independent expenditures — political spending on ads or other communications intended to influence the outcome of an election.

Minnesota lawmakers quickly modified the state’s laws in response to Citizens United. And the agency charged with enforcement, the Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure, has struggled to respond to the many questions left unanswered.

Most recently, the board has rejected a series of complaints asserting that groups working to insert a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution are flaunting the 2010 disclosure requirements. Wednesday’s decision cements what opponents of the ballot question have long feared would be the result of the local rulings: Minnesotans will go to the polls in November without knowing who financed the campaigns backing the proposed amendment.

Things all citizen-voters should want to know, such as who put up the money and made the decisions and spent the money, all that is now put behind an Iron Curtain as odious as that of the Soviets in cold-war times -- and we need to look at individuals having a big role in that odious change. Thanks to Taxpayer League and gay marriage opponents wanting more stealth in their dealings. More later, on each.

Hawkins continues:

Independent expenditures have increased in importance in recent years as corporations and other groups stymied by the ban on direct gifts to candidates have poured unprecedented amounts of money into campaigns to defeat a particular candidate or influence the perception of a constitutional question.

The resulting massive infusions of political money trouble clean-campaign advocates everywhere, but are particularly problematic in Minnesota. The state’s relatively low limits on campaign donations from individuals to candidates make it hard to combat the negative ad blitzes independent expenditures typically underwrite.
[emphasis added]


Bopp 'til you drop - aka bringing in an outside agitator.

That's right, these uber-rightwingers could not find a better uber-rightwinger for their assault on sound campaign reporting practices than a well known outside anti-regulation kindred-soul advocate, as Hawkins reported:

Now, with the identity of the party paying for the ads off the table, voters won’t know who has a stake in the race and why, he and Schultz agreed.

“Had this decision come down two years ago, we wouldn’t have discovered Target’s donation to the organization that supported Emmer,” Schultz said. “I can give $30 million, $20 million, and not have to disclose it.”

MCCL [Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Inc.] and its co-plaintiffs, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota [...] were represented by James Bopp Jr., the conservative Indiana attorney who brought Citizens United’s suit. Bopp has described himself as on a quest to “dismantle the entire regulatory scheme that is called campaign finance law.

He has also represented the anti-gay-marriage groups that had fought disclosure of their sources of funding, the National Organization for Marriage, and its state sister group, Minnesota for Marriage.

A year ago, those two groups and the other members of the vote-yes organization Minnesota for Marriage, the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Minnesota Family Council, complained to the state board, with Bopp’s help. Their argument on the local level: The disclosure law put “a bullseye squarely on the forehead of every NOM donor, supporter and member if disclosed.”
[emphasis added]. Some deserve a "bullseye" for their disruptive and arguably duplicitous BS, more of that later, re Harold Hamilton. On second thought, lets just get to it.


HAROLD HAMILTON

Hamilton publishes two websites he calls, "The Anoka County Watchdog," and, "The Minnesota Watchdog," which are largely little but rightwing propaganda organs, and links to stuff of interest to Hamilton, such as rightwing advocacy or reporting.

In particular, Hamilton recently voiced objection to an advocacy group [that does report its funding and expenditures, or has done so, to the Anoka County election authorities], Citizens for Responsible Government, Inc. See, the largely groundless but particularly vitriolic screed, here, in particular.


The Pot Calling the Kettle Black - But First, Lobbying Background.

The two plaintiff operations in the litigation Hawkins reported, each have a history of lobbying in Minnesota, for years, with Minnesota's Campaign Finance Board having much useful information; with the CFB being the source of these screen captures (online links, here, here, here and here):



Rau's Citizens Concerned for Life lobbying report, Jan-June, 2012:



Krinkie's Taxpayer League lobbying report, Jan-Jun, 2012:






Note the underlining on that last item. Harold Hamilton is Chairman of the Taxpayer League organization, with Krinkie as front man. Yet here is how Hamilton paints himself on his Anoka Watchdog page:



Yes, he does all his editorializing there without disclosure to people that he is the brains behind Krinkie, or whatever he does as Chairman of the Taxpayer League. One thinks citizens reading his web posting might like to know that, before weighing what his dog-barking includes. He dislikes disclosure of his being Chairman of one of the two key organizations that brought in the Citizens United litigator to poison the disclosure well in Minnesota - and to install an Iron Curtain of silence instead.

Also, he dislikes arrogant politicians in Anoka County, he says. He strongly supports Matt Look.

Hamilton  in his Watchdog writing has put “a bullseye squarely on the forehead of every donor, supporter and member" of Citizens for Responsible Government. Think about it, given Bopp's argument on behalf of Hamilton's PAC and the other bigoted one. Hamilton paints black the effort of one of the Erhart brothers and two others in forming Citizens for Responsible Government, bandying about the word "PAC" in a pejorative sense, while silent in such posting of his chairing a larger and more active statewide PAC that's been around for years and does extensive lobbying, having done it for years, and which spent more than twice as much in the first half of this year on lobbying alone than the entire amount reported by Citizens for Responsible Government as raised during its entire existence, (per the CRG's disclosure filing with county election authorities, below, which readers can compare directly with the above Taxpayer League lobbying disclosure).



Such an ill-disclosed chairmanship of a major Minneosota PAC that existed for years, and one which fought against citizens having disclosure of how private PAC slush funds are generated and slushed out, is why some might judge Hamilton as inconsistent in his PAC criticism when looking at either of the Erhart brothers, and the CRG campaign effort.

Now, back to the MinnPost report and posting of the court decision the two well-funded PACs, each paying lobbyist money to individuals, procured from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals - and the Iron Curtain each sought and attained for its money manipulations; there is this --


BOTTOM LINE:

Harold, you don't like it and you brought in that Indiana Bopp hit-man character to undermine sunshine on your PAC shenanigans, but I embrace the famous Jerry McGuire film line, now in a somewhat different context, "Show me the money." I believe citizens should be entitled to have PACs such as yours "show" the money.

What is it you want to hide?


____________________________
Misc. matters: For disclosure, I have spoken only once to Bill Erhart. He was seated in front of me and turned and introduced himself to me at a DFL caucus years ago when Hatch was running for governor against Pawlenty, when I was commenting unfavorably to another person seated next to me about  Dan Erhart, Mike Hatch, Tom Gamec, and others conferencing in the back of the room. I have never spoken to Dan Erhart, and I supported Mayor Skogquist in his run for the county board seat Erhart then held, and which he continues to hold after defeating Skogquist's candidacy. I am not a colleague or associate of either of the Erharts. Of the two other contributors to Citizens for Responsible Government, I have spoken briefly on a few occasions with Natalie Steffen, once by phone with a candidacy question I also reviewed with her opponent Matt Look about county road priorities; and I supported Steffen against Look last election for the Dist 1 county board seat Berg vacated. That was for the general election, after supporting Terry Hendriksen as the best candidate in my view, among four primary candidates. I have been a Town Center critic, including Steffen's role in its founding during her tenure on Met Council. Sannerud, the other reported CRG contributing founder, I would not know or recognize him if standing in the checkout line at Coborns in front of me. I have no connection to CRG's incorporation by its founders, nor ties of any kind to its founding. I support the local nonpartisan candidates CRG endorses, some more strongly than others. Kindred outlooks as to which local candidates represent the most responsible degree of government, as against others running, is the overlap in judgment I hold with the CRG founding contributors. I know as a friend of my sister a Ramsey resident, Betsy O'Berry, who is a CPA in the Ham Lake accounting firm founded and run by Sannerud and his wife. I have encountered O'Berry at DFL caucuses, where she has been a part of local DFL leadership. We have never spoken at length about politics, family, friends, or other persons.

Recently I have corresponded twice with Bill Erhart, entirely related to Citizens for Responsible Government, each time to pin down detail of the organization's activities. In the first email correspondence, Erhart responded on the record in response to specific questions:

Erik; On behalf of Citizen for Responsible Government. We don't pay any salaries or for help. Its very unlikely any money will be left over, so we haven't discussed it. So far the only races we have been involved in are local and nonpartison and thats the intent. We are preparing a report on what we believe are numerous issues that you likely could help on fact checking. Let me know if you have an interest. Bill

The substance of my response was:

Bill - Thanks. I have been reading Watchdog stuff and that anonymous cesspool, Reflections in Ramsey, and have taken offense. And I have published accordingly, and urged readers to send Citizens for Responsible Government contributions. I have done that as independent of the effort. I hesitate to move from that stance to being a part of the effort since I then would have to disclose that in posting.

If you have specific single item things that you would want to send off the record asking if I know of any helpful data or resource people, that would make sense. I have had off record contact from the Ron Paul support faction, and I better understand things the more people who contact me, from whatever background or belief position.

As I told one individual, I do not take requests, but instead exercise full editorial discretion over what I publish. I have offered an opportunity to others to submit guest opinion, with name disclosure required, where I would make Crabgrass available as a forum. I have been told of beliefs that conflict of interest situations exist beyond the McGlone-Flaherty situation and I have urged the informant to consider a guest editorial that way.

Should any champion or critic of Citizens for Responsible Government submit reasoned commentary, with a name given and checked and not anonymous, I would consider publishing it as a guest submission; clearly identified as to source. Harold Hamilton could do that, although he has his own forum and likely would use it.

But as to having a role in some actual mailing preparation, that degree of participation would stand in the way of my posting objectively about opinions and thinking Harold Hamilton and others spread.

For now, I will supplement my posting re your response about the effort being different in scale and management arrangements expected from, for example, the Super-PAC Norm Coleman is exploiting - where I doubt Coleman is functioning pro bono and without substantial compensation.

I did send a fifty buck contribution to Citizens for Responsible Government at the given address in Ham Lake, because I support (and in the primary voted for) individuals the Citizens group is backing.

Most recently, I inquired:

Will Citizens for Responsible Government, presumably with nothing to hide, continue filing disclosure documents with the county, despite the impact of the case online, and reported, these links:

http://www.minnpost.com/sites/default/files/attachments/MCCL%20v%20Swanson%20sept%205%202012.pdf

http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/09/companies-groups-can-spend-affect-mn-elections-without-disclosure-appeals-co

I note the plaintiffs in this federal action have much in common, and the defendants are officials wanting election integrity that comes with disclosure.

In any event, I intend publicly challenging the Watchdog on reporting/editorializing on this decision and its impact on transparency and sunshine in election funding. As someone encouraging citizen contributions to CRG, I would like to know where the organization stands, even with judicial precedent allowing taking the easy route.

I am awaiting a CRG response, but I presume the organization will continue reporting at the county level on its nonpartison efforts on behalf of local candidates. I doubt either of the Erhart brothers would contend that county reporting requirements are onerous and problematic. I do not see a person such as Natalie Steffen being an opponent of money-movement disclosure in anything related to candidate direct spending or spending in support of candidates or ballot issues. I will add an update upon receiving a response.

My commentary suggesting sending contributions to CRG remains online, here, in the UPDATE postings.

As given there, the mailing address for contribution checks to CRG, (something I again urge activist readers to consider for reasons given in the earlier post), is:

Citizens for Responsible Government
1207 Constance Blvd. NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304
Phone (763) 434-5929

The nonpartisan candidates still in the running whom CRG has indicated in its county disclosure as those it favors are:

Dan Sanders, Allison Lister, Sarah Strommen, Mark Kuzma, Chris Riley, and John LeTourneau.

Next, I applaud the CRG effort for not paying any person any part of CRG funds for management. I believe this is not the case with either of the PACs that pursued procuring that anti-sunshine judicial opinion.

CRG reported expenditures, so far, have been primarily for signs touting candidate names and noting the office being sought. There is nothing in that at all negative toward others, nor any advocacy about ballot issues; i.e., there have been no "negative ad blitzs" from CRG.

Unlike CRG with its narrowed non-lobbying and nonpartisan local candidate related expenditure orientation, Krinkie and Rau each identified theirselves as active and registered lobbyists in filed lobbyist disclosure statements. (UPDATE: Do you think Hamilton knows legislators from his activities and from time to time makes contact to advocate certain things; i.e., is it arguable whether Hamilton should register as a lobbyist? If he in fact lobbies for his PAC, even if doing so without compensation for it and in an ad hoc manner, go figure. Where might his rights under the First Amendment and MS Ch. 554 cross into "lobbying" is a murky and uncertain speculation.)

Disclosure indicated paid lobbying by each respective PAC, respectively via Krinkie and Rau. Consider this screen capture from Rau's filing with the MN Campaign Finance Board showing a widespread range of legislative lobbying, by three registered active individuals, including advocacy of stances on  "Campaingn Finances" and "Election Ethics" (presumably in tune with the judicial Iron Curtain effort):


Last, I again urge readers to contemplate why there is on the part of these two large statewade PACs the hate toward sunshine on the money.

And to contemplate what would be the better thing, sunshine or an Iron Curtain.


___________UPDATE___________

For Harold, here is a picture of a glass house. It is inadvisible to be throwing stones from inside one.

_________FURTHER UPDATE_________
This response from Bill Erhart on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Government:

We haven't discussed this recent decision. At this time we are planning to disclose in accordance with the legal requirements.

__________FURTHER UPDATE___________
On reflecting, Hamilton has every right to believe as he chooses and to publish as he does, where it is clear he is an advocate and not an unbiased reporter. I was not suggesting otherewise. I trust the First Amendment and people having latitude to speak their minds and to suggest alternative ways to view things.

And I probably had written too harshly of his criticisms of others he dislikes, while wishing he had more good things that he could say about those he favors. But his favored folks are who they are.

I have preferences too, and they clearly differ in many ways from Hamilton's. Here is where I think Hamilton is coming from, ultimately, where he disarmingly distances himself from this ill-written anonymous surrogate, but at the same time expressly encourages his readers to seek out this "go negative" site by writing.

There is an interesting take on this whole situation over at a new blog called Reflections in Ramsey (Editor's Note: This blog is not affiliated with the Anoka County Watchdog or the Minnesota Watchdog).
NOT ME. NOT ME. HAROLD SAYS SO. Indeed. I do not think anyone would think Hamilton would go that far that way, or write that ineptly, and Hamilton clearly has the courage to put his name to his published thoughts and arguments. But really, he endorses something quite extreme and troubling. I am certain Hamilton has no cowardice to him where he would solicit this kind of effort - where we may reasonably ask who if any office holder might have solicited it.

I have little doubt that linked-to list is exactly the list Hamilton's PAC endorses and will support with independent advertising, hopefully positive about his people and not negative about opponents - but surely Hamilton has already gone negative about Allison Lister. Mayor Bob Ramsey was not on that list because he and Strommen did not have a primary, but he belongs there with Look and McGlone, and Fields; just as sign clusters along the roadways suggest coupled entries.

Simply put, Hamilton allies himself with that anonymous published negative site because both want the same candidates to win in November.

Simply put, I encourage contributions to Citizens for Responsible Government because I think it favors candidates who would provide better government than the other list.

It comes down to knowing who Citizens for Responsible Government supports, and who the anonymous go-negative postings are intended to benefit; and to look and decide which collection of candidates offers the better perspective and best likelihood of new and improved action in local government.

These races should be distinguished from national partisan candidacies because nonpartisan offices are being contested where issues are local and where winners in Novembers will have little power to sway national decision making while having to have the objectivity, flexibility and level character to be able to adapt to whatever national and state decisions impose as constraints to local initiative and action.

My hope, without knowing one way or the other, is that the opposition candidates in Ramsey, Strommen as mayor, and the others would, if victorious, dump Darren ASAP. My impression is it would be a possibility where it would not be so if incumbents win. My impression is Backous, (on council and not up for reelection), would be amenable to such a step, and I regard him as the most ideology free and independent decision maker on council. I say that after disagreeing with his effort to alter road access in his own neighborhood, and disagreeing with his liking the overall Flaherty concept while speaking strongly against majority-determined aspects of subsidizing it.

If "dumping Darren," a new council would reverse the failed land speculation giving Lazan/Landform well over a million dollars of city money when all he produced was the obscenely subsidized Flaherty thing; with Darren taking credit for Jim Deal's effort on getting two clinics built, helping land a second restaurant in Clown Center, and getting the rail stop.

As to the possibility Darren and the Ramsey council and Matt Look were the instrumental folks (and not simply tag-alongs) in getting the Northstar stop, (whether you like it or not), vs. it being Jim Deal producing results again (with Dayton as governor presenting the legislature a bonding bill), think it over - and don't believe in the Easter Bunny either.

The only progress made was attained by Deal's effort, while regressive things like super-sized subsidies for Flaherty and accommodating Jeff Wise cherry-picking a site in Clown Center was what the present Ramsey majority has given us. Along with its million-dollar subsidized "help" of their Mr. Lazan.

NOW --- Aside from my questioning the Flaherty-McGlone job-income thing - questioning McGlone - I am not saying others such as Bob Ramsey may have been wrongly motivated, but only that Bob made bad decisions and listened to the wrong people's advice. I question Bob's judgment. I do not question his integrity.

photo source
Indeed, Bob Ramsey while having to work in NoDak for a few months and endure a tiring commute, scrupulously did not attempt or even think to install his wife into any questionable job situation., while personally in a position where such a thing might have helped he and his family to prosper.

And Jeff Wise, on his part, had every right to cut as good a deal as he could in moving his business, I do not fault that motive. But concern for his business having its best new environment might have colored Jeff's judgment regarding the massive subsidy for Flaherty and the routing of a million city dollars to Landform/Lazan; which I contend was unsound judgment which will prove itself so more and more into the future.

If setting a city course of  assisting a quick killing - prompt commission flow to Landform results in a fast-food schlock alley little different from a mile or so down the road in Anoka along the south side of Highway 10, to be installed along the costly Sunwood rerouting in Town Center, then what about those quality shops and restaurants that were key in the original vision, and key to initial promoting of the entire experiment? Down the drain for a quick payout to Landform? We shall wait and see.

Franchise-schlock will not differentiate Ramsey if that is what is delivered. It is what I fear, from Lazan and current decision making on council. It is one of several reasons why I would favor having fresh faces running Ramsey's council who might aim for higher and better results, independent from any sense of urgency tied to Landform and the commissions that might flow from its contract with our city. Patient people may prove better people.

I see the mayor race and the County Board Dist. 1 race as important, and the ones likely to be close. I see Kuzma, for a host of reasons, winning soundly against McGlone. Riley seems the better candidate in Ward 4, but I have no vote there. LeTourneau and Field may prove a close race, and having little in common with Field I sense LeTourneau may have the better judgment and less restrictive perspective on how Ramsey should be.

In the mayor race, Strommen is a family friend, and both smart and wise - the two being overlapping traits but not identical. I had expected Bob to be more a fiscal conservative on Town Center and to not get into land speculation against the private sector, but he did it; and it was a shared decision he was part of to go that path.

Most certainly, Strommen if mayor would not be taking close advice from Look and McGlone.

_____________FURTHER UPDATE_____________
Criticism of some that the rest of Ramsey was ignored while tons of cash were dumped down the Town Center rabbit hole is best exemplified by one of the worst traffic impediment decisions ever made in our town.

The wholly unnecessary traffic light installation at Ramsey and Sunwood has countless times seen me headed east or west across Sunwood or wanting to turn onto Ramsey Blvd. and seeing no traffice any of the three other way while watching a dubiously slow change of a red light stopping my progress, and while watching knowing it to be a light which never had any sane reason to be there.

At the same time, the Armstrong Blvd. - Alpine interchange is a dangerous one as was Ramsey Blvd. and Alpine, which has become far safer with it changed to a four-way stop.

Changing Armstrong - Alpine to a four-way stop is a low-budget and long overdue step and would be a safety feature for all of us already living in Ramsey north of Highway 10. Wasting scarce money on the brain-cramp stupid traffic light at Sunwood - Ramsey Blvd. while ignoring the rest of our town is inexcusable stupidity. It had to be the effort of planners, it is that stupid.

My hope would be voting in new faces on Ramsey's council, and hopefully dumping Darren, would result in a more balanced perspective of city needs, vs. Darren - Town Center wants, in terms of the wants-needs jargon commonly applied by Mr. Look, who wanted Ramsey to buy the failed Town Center venture, when Ramsey never ever in a million years needed to. It was a want to play developer, not a need of our community. It was ill-advised and paying another million to Darren will not change - or hide - that basic fact, a fact we all know but some continue to fail to admit.

1 comment:

Wes Volkenant said...

Wow. Thasnks for all you do here. As an Andover resident, I don't see this directly as you do in Ramsey, but what a great read from a different viewpoint than that of the entrenched powers-that-be. I marched in today's Happy Days parade on behalf of Peter Perovich (and Sam Scott and Jim Graves), and heard much of the sdentiment you shared, especially looking to the November election in Ramsey. Best wishes to my neighbors to the west! Wes