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Mike Dean, Executive
Director, Common Cause Minnesota
Civic Caucus , 8301 Creekside Circle
#920, Bloomington, MN 55437
March 26, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by phone) , Jan Hively (by
phone), Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald,
John Mooty, Wayne Popham (by phone), Clarence Shallbetter, Bob White
Mike Dean (executive director, Common
Cause Minnesota) argues that the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court
in Citizens United v.
Federal Elections Commission dramatically alters the landscape of election
funding in Minnesota and
dilutes the influence of individuals in campaigns. Common Cause presents
three strategies to offset the effects of the decision: Improve
transparency of corporate contributions over the short term, and require
shareholder approval for a corporation to make a political expenditure and
boost public financing of campaigns as longer-term efforts.
A. Context of the meeting—
Mike Dean will visit with the Caucus today to comment on the effects of
the January U.S. Supreme Court decision known now by the plaintiff
Citizens United, which was decided by a vote of 5-4 in favor of the
organization. The decision resolved a disagreement between Citizens United
and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) over the showing of a video
critical of Hilary Clinton close to the 2002 elections. The FEC argued
that the video and its supporting advertisements violated McCain-Feingold
Act restrictions on corporate financing of political campaigns.
B. Welcome and
Dean is executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a statewide
nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization that works to promote fair
and clean elections, protect the independence of the judiciary, and make
government open and accountable to its citizens. Over the last year Dean
has worked to transform a dormant state chapter of Common Cause into an
important voice on good government issues in
Dean formerly was a senior account
executive for Himle Horner, Inc., a public relations/public affairs firm
that assists clients with public affairs, corporate communications, media
relations, crisis communications and other areas.
Prior to joining Himle Horner, Dean
directed the University of
Minnesota’s Legislative Network. In
this role he managed grassroots activities and launched a successful
online advocacy program that quadrupled the number of university
advocates. During that same period, Dean helped craft the grassroots
strategy that resulted in the passing of the
Previously, Dean worked as a national
grassroots organizer for Common Cause in Washington,
D.C. Dean graduated from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison
with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations.
C. Comments and discussion—During
Dean’s visit with the Civic Caucus, the following points were raised:
Dean provided an overview of the origins
and mission of Common Cause. The organization at one point had a large,
strong presence in the state. After some years of dormancy Dean is working
to rebuild the organization, and used the senate recount of the
Coleman/Franken race to advocate for a series of reforms that have
reintroduced Common Cause in Minnesota. Membership is growing. It is at
10,000 presently, with 3,000 dues-paying members. Dean’s strategy for
growing the organization’s financial base is to demonstrate value at the
capitol, then request support.
Common Cause was born of a commitment to
assure that government is not controlled by special interests. They look
at the ramifications of decisions and seek to remedy those that are
harmful for the public interest. That is the work of the organization
today, applied presently to campaign finance.
Effects of the Citizens
“The Citizens United decision is
extremely concerning,” Dean said. “It overturned the 1907 law called the
Tillman Act that banned corporate contributions from national political
campaigns. I don’t feel it was handled right—had no factual basis.” The
court sought the topic out. “The original suit did not include the
constitutionality question,” Dean lamented, echoing the dissenting opinion
that argued the majority pulled it into the realm of constitutionality in
order to write law.
“These are thoughtful people,” a member
observed, of the majority. So—though you don’t agree—what would their
position be, explained in the positive? “Explained in positive terms, the
majority’s opinion was that this got down to the purity of free speech.”
Overriding questions of corporate personhood, “free speech trumps
everything in this decision,” Dean said.
Writing for the majority, Kennedy reasoned
that, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from
fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply
engaging in political speech.” He argued that there is no practical means
for separating media from other forms of corporations or parsing media
into news and other forms. The law as it stands, Kennedy said, would allow
Congress to suppress political speech in newspapers, books, television and
Methods to offset the
effect of the decision
Since this is now a constitutional matter,
Dean said, it will be very difficult to nullify by means of a
constitutional amendment. So Common Cause is promoting ideas to negate
some of the effects that they see coming from the ruling. There are three
pillars to their strategy: Improve transparency of corporate contributions
over the short term, expand shareholder authority approval for a
corporation to make a political expenditure and boost public financing
of campaigns as longer-term efforts.
increase transparency through immediate disclosure of independent
“Common Cause and the Minnesota Chamber of
Commerce are working to develop a compromise bill that will bring greater
transparency to the state’s campaign finance laws."
Require disclosure of
corporate expenditures within 24 hours…
It should be done online, so that it may
be quickly accessible.
…And make them available
on the Campaign Finance Disclosure board website
A practical challenge is that money may
reach campaigns in both direct and indirect ways. Direct money goes
straight to supporting the candidate. Indirect money may be routed through
a political caucus that supplements the candidate’s campaign.
“Political money laundering” presents a
challenge. “Someone may want to be more secretive,” Dean said, “and may
house his money in a corporation which then runs ads for the private
Justice Thomas wrote a separate concurring
opinion in the case, departing from the majority’s argument that corporate
contributors should be required to reveal their identity. Citing in part
the backlash against supporters of the Proposition 8 initiative in
California last year, Thomas argued that the anonymity of free speech must
hold in the case of corporations as well. Identity should be revealed only
willingly, or in case-by-case decisions.
lobbyist disclosure law should require lobbyists to disclose every
significant contact they have with a legislator, legislative staff, or
state agency employee.” They should report who they contacted, what was
discussed and at who’s employ. These reports would be posted online.
Regulate issue ads the
same way as “express advocacy”
This includes reporting publicly who is
paying for the ad, how much, and what candidate was mentioned. This too
would be posted online.
and assert shareholders’ rights
Guard the shareholders’
interests by requiring affirmative approval for corporate political
“Some of these organizations that have a
single issue don’t advocate that issue,” Dean said, instead advocating on
Further, according to a Carlson School
“Corporate PAC giving directed by executives goes more often to personal
preference than to the interests of the company.”
Therefore, Dean argued, “As a shareholder
you should be notified when donations are to be made or ads run, then it
should be required you provide affirmative approval.”
the public-financing component of political campaigns
In Minnesota there have been two
components to the public subsidy of campaigns: the political contribution
refund and candidates agreeing to spending limits and receiving public
The governor included the $50 individual
refund in his unallotments of 2009, so it is not currently active. On the
public financing, “95-100 percent of candidates for state office follow
this. I can’t imagine what the state of politics in Minnesota would be if
everyone had to spend more time fundraising.”
Restore the Political
contribution refund program, and increase it.
Despite the financial condition of the
state, Dean argued, this is a core program with particular importance.
Common Cause supports restoring the campaign contribution refund, doubling
it to $100/person.
Move Minnesota toward full
Do this through new, direct appropriation.
Common Cause is convinced of the importance of public financing at the
state level, and is devoted to it as a long-term item on their agenda.
“Certain individuals self-finance
campaigns,” a member observed. Another member expressed skepticism about
the sheer size of the corporate contributions. How could that be affected
by public financing? “The goal here is to level the playing field by
raising all boats,” Dean replied, saying he doesn’t expect public
financing itself to match the potential of private giving.
Pass a law banning
expenditure by foreign corporations
Dean argued that the legislature should
pass a law banning the participation of foreign-owned corporations in
campaigning. Under Minnesota law, “foreign” refers to corporations with
home registrations outside Minnesota. Ban foreign corporations from
campaign contributions outright; as well as those with a majority of
A member expressed skepticism that the
court’s decision included foreign entities. This is something to be
determined, but it would be better to preempt with a law, Dean said.
A new paradigm for
openness: Public = Online
All of this disclosure is unprecedented in
both scope and rapidity. It is made possible, Dean argues, by the
Internet. People file reports and they are posted right away, digitally,
on the CFDB website.
“On the redesign of government, make
government a platform on which people can come and access information and
data. Technology opens up many opportunities. Data is [currently] housed
in silos, not shared. Opening it up will allow collaboration.”
Work underway this session
The basic strategy for Common Cause in
this work is to first seek transparency, through state laws. Then they
will work on shareholder rights and public finance, which are longer-term
Common Cause hopes to work with the MN
Chamber hopes to get a bill through this session. Dean said he has had
meetings in support of it with Simon (DFL), Winkler (DFL) and Kohls (R) in
the House, and Sieben (DFL), Rest, and Gerlach (R) in the Senate. The
Chamber, Minnesota Business Partnership, and League of Women Voters are
actively working to find a compromise.
In closing Dean said that Common Cause is
still looking to rebuild to its past stature, and is looking for
partnerships, board members, and members of the organization. Presently
they are involved in a coalition with the Minnesota Democracy Network, and
the League of Women Voters. “How do we work on these issues together?”