here for PDF format
State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55447
Thursday, December 7, 2006
State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, Rochester, MN
Verne Johnson, chair, and Paul Gilje
Context of the meeting:
The Civic Caucus is reviewing issues related to elections and impact on
polarization and paralysis in the Legislature. Today's meeting was an
informal meeting over breakfast between retiring State Sen. Sheila
Kiscaden and Verne Johnson and Paul Gilje. During the meeting at a
Perkins Restaurant in Minneapolis, former Governor Al Quie dropped by for
a few minutes.
Comments by Kiscaden and discussion with the Civic Caucus
1. Power of the legislative caucuses is very large in
Kiscaden, who originally caucused as a Republican and in later years as a
Democrat, observed that the most potent political force for legislative
campaigns has shifted from candidates themselves or political parties to
the legislative caucuses.
Legislative caucuses must be distinguished from other terms in which the
word "caucus" is used. Legislative caucuses are the organizations of the
majority and the minority in the Minnesota House and Senate. Legislative
caucuses are the political bodies with which the members of the House and
Senate are affiliated--the House DFL Caucus, the Senate DFL Caucus, the
House GOP Caucus, and the Senate GOP Caucus.
Legislative caucuses traditionally have served as the groups
that organize the House and Senate when in session. But in recent
years--helped by campaign finance laws--legislative caucuses have become
dominant organizations for legislative campaigns, starting with
recruitment of candidates, guiding or assisting candidates develop their
campaign plans, providing technical assistance for targeted races, and
providing campaign field staff, Kiscaden said.
Experience in the Rochester, MN area--Kiscaden
described four close campaigns in the Rochester area: Senate District 30:
Ann Lynch (D), 52 percent, and Scott Wright (R), 47 percent; House
District 29b: Kim Norton (D), 50.2 percent, and Rich Decker (R), 49.6
percent; House District 30a: Tina Liebling (D), 52 percent, and Carla
Nelson (R), 47 percent; and House District 30b: Andy Welti (D), 52
percent, and Bill Kuisle (R), 48 percent.
The Republican and Democratic legislative caucuses each hired
and sent field staff to the Rochester area to work directly on those
campaigns. Reportedly there were six field staff for Republican candidates
and six for Democratic candidates working in the Rochester area during the
2006 campaign season. Kiscaden, who wasn't a candidate for re-election to
her Senate seat (District 30), said that the presence of field staff
changes the dynamics of the campaigns on the local level. For example,
need for candidates to directly enlist and manage volunteers in the
Rochester area diminishes. Field staff are often recruited by, trained
by, and consult with the political caucuses. Technical assistance and
consultation is made available by the caucuses to the candidates on the
development of their strategies and campaign materials.
There are both partisan and non-partisan staff at the
Legislature. Some non-partisan staff, such as House and Senate research,
work for all members of the House or Senate. In addition, every
legislator is provided with personal staff support for their offices.
These staff are hired by the caucuses. The House tends to provide one
legislative assistant for every three legislators. The Senate provides one
assistant for each Senator. There is also caucus specific staff. Each
caucus directly hires some partisan staff who work for all members of that
caucus. The partisan caucus staff tends to be clustered in the areas of
issues research, communications, and constituent services.
Neither partisan or non-partisan staff who work for the
Legislature are allowed to be involved in campaigns during their work
time, nor are legislators allowed to do campaign work at the Capitol.
However, it is practically the norm for all partisan staff to work on
campaigns. Some caucuses expect all staff to "volunteer" time on weekends
and use some vacation time to help with campaigns.
Some legislative caucus staff take extensive leaves during
election years to work on campaigns. A few have even developed small
businesses that specialize in developing and providing campaign materials.
Caucus leaders determine which candidates' campaigns will get
the benefit of caucus resources. Not all candidates get such direct
caucus support. Each year there are ‘targeted’ races that get the majority
of the support. For example, Rochester had several targeted races this
Changes in campaign strategies:
also observed that the nature of campaigns has also changed as a result of
applying targeted marketing techniques. Rather than sending campaign
materials to all voters, sophisticated mailing and door knocking
techniques were adopted based on information known about that voter.
Candidates were encouraged to door-knock, of course. But they
were often serving essentially as demographic data-gatherers, learning
about the residents so that information could be used in targeted mailings
and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Candidates’ brochures aren’t distributed to all homes in a
legislative district. Instead they are targeted very carefully to
specific population groups in the district, based on their political
leanings and positions on key issues. Thus, a candidate's positions on
all issues never were distributed to all voters in the district. That is
considered a waste of money.
In addition, most campaign pieces are honed down to very
little text: bullet points and broad statements with lots of pictures.
It was very hard to find information on candidates' overall positions,
even when you checked their web sites, which also were maintained by the
legislative caucuses. Keeping information on candidates' positions to a
minimum is, in part, a defensive strategy. It leaves the candidate less
vulnerable to attack.
Candidates today, especially in close or targeted races, are
often the subject of attacks. With some frequency, these attacks are not
done with the knowledge or consent of the candidate. In addition to
attacks by special interest groups, often the legislative caucuses are the
sources of these attacks, which are financed as an independent expenditure
without the knowledge or consent of the candidate.
In targeted races, brochures attacking an opponent were
sometimes prepared independently by the legislative caucuses. Often
these brochures were prepared by the same firms that prepared the
brochures that were developed, circulated and paid for by the candidate's
own campaign. When the attack brochures looked as if they came from the
candidate's campaign, an incorrect impression was created that it was the
candidate distributing the attack brochures.
Each of the caucuses raises money that it uses for independent
expenditures, field staff and other campaign related expenses.
In summary, what is happening more and more is that
legislative campaigns are impacted by the caucuses—which recruit and
enlist candidates, raise money, and have an active role in providing
advice, strategy and resources for campaigns.
Legislators elected with major support by their caucuses enter
the Legislature with significant commitments to support their caucus
leaders, thereby diminishing the ability of individual legislators to act
independently. Legislators who had faced strong efforts and opposition
from the leaders of the other caucus during the campaign can find it
difficult to put the antagonism and competitive nature of the campaign
behind and move from partisanship to engaging in civil, respectful and
non-partisan legislative debate. Similarly, caucus leaders sometimes
continue to focus more on politics than policy. Particularly in the House,
minority party members are often denied opportunities to serve on the
committees that they prefer; they seldom are allowed to attend conferences
and often have difficulty getting their proposed legislation heard in
sums of money being spent—it
has been reported that the Senate Democratic Caucus raised (and presumably
spent) about $2 million this campaign cycle. To illustrate the dollars
spent on closely contested races, Kiscaden was told that $300,000 (from
all sources) was spent on the District 13 Senate race between Joe Gimse
(R), 51 percent, and Dean Johnson (D), 49 percent.
Support for limiting amounts legislative caucuses can receive--Kiscaden
supports the recommendations made by David Schultz of Hamline that strict
limits be placed on the amounts that legislative caucuses can spend on
individual legislative races. Schultz advocated a $2,000 limit on
legislative caucus contributions to individual races and a $500 limit on
the amount that any contributor can make to a legislative caucus. Kiscaden
thinks these limits need to be raised, but agrees with the principle of
applying campaign limits that are required of candidates to the
legislative caucuses and to other political action committees.
Change not likely within the Legislature--Because
individual legislators have benefited from the ability of the current
system, it is extremely doubtful that very many legislators would support
changes to reduce the influence of the caucuses, she said. Strong public
pressure will be required for change, she said.
supports an earlier primary date. She said that candidates who receive a
certain percentage of votes for party endorsement--not just the party
winner--should be able to be placed on the ballot. She likes instant
runoff voting, but believes it has little chance.
Comments by Al Quie--During
the meeting former Governor Al Quie dropped by the table where Kiscaden
was meeting with the Civic Caucus. Quie said that he believes one simple
change in campaign finance would be to require that all funding for a
given campaign must be raised only within the boundaries of the area where
the race is occurring. Thus, for example, in a legislative race, all the
money would need to come from within the affected legislative district.
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.