In the Spotlight

News & Features
Common Cause Alleges Ventura Peddled Influence
By Martin Kaste
March 25, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0 28.8

The Minnesota chapter of Common Cause says Governor Ventura has opened a loophole in the state's campaign finance laws, and they want the Legislature to close it. The non-profit government-watchdog group says the governor gave private companies a means to buy influence with his administration when he solicited donations to pay for his transition and his inauguration.

COMMON CAUSE SAYS THE FUND JESSE VENTURA SET UP last November to help pay for his transition into the governor's office has opened up a new loophole for interests seeking to buy influence with the state. The fund raised $113,000 from private individuals and companies, and Common Cause President David Schultz says those donations turned out to be a wise investment.

Schultz: If we look at the money that has been spent during the transition, one sees an interesting pattern between who helped fund the transition, and the individuals who were appointed to key positions in the administration.
Common Cause broke the donations down by category. For example, $14,300 from manufacturing interests, $13,500 from insurance, and so on. Schultz says there's no obvious connection between donations and actions by the Ventura administration, but he says he sees disturbing patterns.
Schultz: One can't prove a quid pro quo; but, for example, the person who's Commissioner of Labor and Industry, her and her brother gave contributions both to the transition effort and the Ventura campaign contribution.
The Commissioner for Labor and Industry, Gretchen Maglich, gave $500 to the transition fund on November 20, two months before Ventura re-appointed her to the post she held under Governor Carlson. Maglich wouldn't comment on the donation, but a department spokesman says the commissioner's husband made the donation, and the commissioner's name simply appeared next to his on the check.

Common Cause draws more tenuous connections between donations and the hiring of three other commissioners. They weren't donors, but they worked in industries that collectively gave thousands of dollars to the fund. For instance, Common Cause points to the $23,500 donated by - what it defines as - medical and insurance interests, and notes Ventura appointed Allina executive Jan Malcolm to be the new health commissioner. Malcolm rejects the implication that the health care industry has bought influence through the transition fund.
Malcolm: The notion that I would know and in any way be influenced in my regulatory duties toward the industry and toward consumer protection based on who gave to a blind fund seems like a pretty big leap.
Common Cause say even if there isn't evidence of direct influence peddling, the governor's fund still creates an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the appearance of a problem is not a problem.
Wodele: There's a problem when there's some direct connection to influence peddling, and for anyone to suggest that there's a direct connection here, they're simply wrong.
Wodele says Ventura never saw the list of donors, and therefore was never influenced by it. Furthermore, this week the administration announced it would refund the entire $113,000, after it closed the books on the transition and realized state funds would cover the entire cost. Still, Wodele says he understands why someone might object to the transition fund.
Wodele: There are legitimate disagreements with that approach, so probably the best way to set it up to avoid that is for the money to come from the budget; that would alleviate any concerns by any individuals or groups that would solve it.
On this, the administration and Common Cause see eye-to-eye. Besides calling for more regulation of donations to governors-elect, the group says the state needs to fully fund the cost of transitions and inaugurations, to prevent the need for special funds arising in the first place.

The Legislature isn't taking much notice, however. Even DFL Senator John Marty, the most vocal advocate of campaign finance reform, says changing those rules can wait. After all, he says, there won't be another Governor-elect for at least three and a half years.

Martin Kaste covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at