here for PDF format
of Meeting with Marc Asch
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, October 27,
former legislator; outgoing president of Common Cause
Charles Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), Wayne Popham
(by phone), and John Rollwagen
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus is reviewing whether changes in
elections system would help reduce polarization and paralysis in the state
lawmaking process. Today we are meeting with Marc Asch, a Minnesota
leader of Common Cause, a national organization with a comprehensive
agenda for elections change.
Introduction of Marc Asch--Verne
introduced Asch. Asch is the outgoing president of Common Cause
and served as its State Issues Committee Chair for six years. He co-owns
and is president of a company providing high end Unix servers and
components to the international market. Before coming to
Minnesota he taught
political science at Michigan State University. He also served on the
faculty of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine,
representing the school to the State Legislature and members of the U.S.
House and Senate. He served in the Minnesota Legislature, representing
a district in the northeastern part of the metro area, in 1993-94.
Comments by Marc Asch--In
Asch's comments and in discussion with Civic Caucus members the following
points were raised:
1. Changing role of Common Cause--Common
Cause still has 3,400 dues-paying members in Minnesota, and
probably is first or second in size among civic-related organizations in
the state. The organization has evolved from having strong state
chapters to mainly a national forum. Common Cause doesn't hold meetings
in Minnesota. Its members here are part of the national communications
network of Common Cause. To encourage broad participation without
influence of money, its dues are low, $35 a year. No one may give more
than $200 a year without approval by the national board.
Cause is a nonpartisan nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by
John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the
political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the
public interest. It now has nearly 300,000 members nationally, according
to its website.
2. Success in
Minnesota, Asch said, the greatest success of Common Cause has been in
campaign finance, led mainly by State Sen. John Marty. He mentioned
limits on contributions to candidates, spending limits, and public
funding, although he's deeply concerned that these changes have been
undercut by "soft money", in which organizations can spend money without
limits on their own.
the interest of the Civic Caucus in reducing polarization and paralysis in
the political process. He said that Common Cause has focused on campaign
finance and on voter access. The organization is working to reduce the
threat of fraud in use of electronic balloting.
3. Instant runoff voting--Common
Cause has looked at instant runoff voting for years and has approved the
concept for states to consider, Asch said. The Minnesota Common Cause
board did not support the amendment on the ballot in Minneapolis to
provide for instant runoff voting, he said. With instant runoff voting a
voter lists candidates in order of preference, with lower-ranked choices
coming into play to make sure a winning candidate receives a majority.
4. Efforts to undercut power of incumbency,
create more independence among legislators, and make districts more
competitive--Asch said the
reforms of providing a carrot of public subsidy along with a cap on
spending are designed to make it possible for people to compete for office
on a level playing field.
5. Shift of influence to legislative leadership
from political parties--Asch
said he agrees with what the Civic Caucus has learned in the last few
weeks that the influence of political parties in campaigns for the
Legislature in Minnesota has diminished in recent years. Legislative
leaders through their respective caucuses now play a major role. The
growth in influence of legislative caucuses results form the lack of
regulation of soft money, in which large amounts of funds can be channeled
into campaigns without giving the money directly to a candidate's campaign
it was common for state legislative leaders to have their own funds, such
as the Friends of the Speaker PAC, to distribute to candidates to insure
loyalty. When such committees were banned about 12 years ago, the
ability of the leadership to control was greatly diminished. In place of
that the new structures allow each legislative caucus to collect and
distribute money. There's no limit on the size of contributions to these
Contributions to the legislative caucuses usually give contributors the
ability to stop legislation they don't want, as distinguished from the
ability to achieve some new legislation.
illustrate the significance of the legislative caucuses in fund-raising,
Asch recalled that the legislative caucuses spent something like $200,000
on selected legislative races, where candidates themselves were limited to
about $35,000. These legislative caucuses have built up campaign
organizations, staff, and offices at locations away from the Capitol.
Legislative caucuses operate outside their respective political parties.
If a candidate from a political party failed to win endorsement, a
legislative caucus of the same party could still provide financial
the role of legislative caucuses is going to be difficult in the
Legislature, Asch said, because it's in the interest of legislative
leadership not to address the question. Moreover, members of the
caucus--benefiting from the way caucus campaign funds are
distributed--have no incentive to challenge the leadership. With
legislative caucus income now exceeding $1,000,000, the center of gravity
has shifted from individual members to the caucus itself.
6. Significance of "independent" expenditures--Continuing
the discussion, Asch decried the growth of independent campaign
organizations that raise money on their own and then urge the election or
defeat of certain candidates. Contributors can give much more to these
organizations; if they give their money late in the campaigns, disclosure
isn't required until after the election.
7. Possible changes--Asch
favors a combination of public and private funding of campaigns. He
likes public funding because it goes directly to the candidate's
campaign. He'd like if about 60-70 percent of a candidate's campaign
treasury would come from public sources. It's not reasonable to expect
total public funding, although it would be good for us to learn more about
the changes in Arizona and Maine, to see what could be applied in
Minnesota. He also thinks it is useful for a candidate to ask neighbors
for support. He noted that Minnesota provides donors with a
dollar-for-dollar refund for contributions up to $50 for political
8. Common Cause agenda--He
summarized several changes that Common Cause recommends for
--Ban soft money.
--Require full lobbying disclosure
--Shift reapportionment from the Legislature to a
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Asch for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.