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Soft Money Survives Attempt at Hardball Politics
by Michael Khoo
February 9, 2000
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A state Senate committee has struck down an attempt to restrict campaign expenditures by political parties. The plan would have restored a provision limiting so-called independent expenditures by parties on behalf of their candidates. But opponents said the plan would give too much power to special interest groups who would remain unregulated.

UNDER CURRENT LAW, political parties and other special interest groups can raise and spend as much money as they please in support of a particular candidate, provided the expense is not coordinated with the candidate's official campaign. That right is fairly new for political parties. Last year, a U.S. District Court struck down a state statute that said spending by parties couldn't be classified as "independent." DFL Senator John Marty of Roseville says his bill was an attempt to restore the prohibition.
Marty: Without this we open the floodgates of the soft money. The parties are now going to be dumping massive amounts of money into elections. I think we could see a doubling of spending in a lot of legislative races this year.
Marty cites the special election of State Senator Tony Kinkel last December to prove his point. Some estimates put the total amount spent during the campaign at $250,000 - perhaps the most expensive state legislative race in Minnesota history. And up to half of the expenditures could be from unregulated soft money.

But most of Marty's fellow committee members evidently didn't agree on the need to regulate party spending, rejecting the measure on a voice vote. Marty's bill would have made public campaign funds available to candidates only if their state party agreed to refrain from independent expenditures.

But Republican Mark Ourada of Buffalo worried the plan would tip the playing field towards special interest groups. Ourada said parties that accept the soft money ban would be unable to respond to a last-minute ad blitz from an unfriendly interest group.
Ourada: And so now, I get blindsided by XYZ organization out there and the people that are most likely to respond and want to respond and have the ability to do so and help me out are no longer going to be able to do that. So, we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back, while all the other organizations out there have free reign to do what they choose.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe agreed. He, too, voted against the bill. Moe says the important thing is to ensure full disclosure of the money that inevitably enters the system.
Moe: Since 1973 - since Watergate - across this country we have tried to limit the amount of money in campaigns. And every time we've put some kind of limit in place, the amount of money in campaigns has gone up. So it finds its way into the political process somehow, someway.
Marty says he has a larger campaign finance reform bill which could incorporate the proposal defeated in committee. But he says he's not optimistic about its prospects.
Marty: I'm willing to meet day and night if we have a chance of getting them passed. I haven't seen a lot of support for small parts of them. Even the disclosure parts of them. So, I don't expect we're going to have a massive outpouring of support on this. And it's a big frustration.
Marty says he'll hold hearings on additional campaign finance legislation in the next several weeks.