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Can Big Business Buy Yet Another Minnesota Governorship? MN Forward’s Trying It, But There Are Problems

One of the first fruits of the poison tree that is the Roberts Court’s Citizens United ruling is the creation of the business-funded group MN Forward, the allegedly "bipartisan" outfit whose actual political leanings may be divined by the following evidence: Its head honcho is none other than Brian McClung, who less than two months ago was the deputy chief of staff for Minnesota’s outgoing Republican governor Tim Pawlenty; and its first TV ads have been for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is essentially Pawlenty without the mullet and even less humanity, which is of course why he (with teabagger support) beat out the somewhat less blatantly evil Marty Seifert for the Republican nomination, even though Seifert, the RPM’s favored candidate, was expected to walk away with the nod.

But a funny thing happened on the way to buying yet another corporate-friendly Republican governor. A couple of funny things, actually.

First of all, Tom Emmer proved to be incapable of toning down the evil that won the hearts of Republican primary voters into a more palatable form suitable for fooling the masses. First, he made war on the restaurant service workers of Minnesota by proclaiming that, since they made $100,000 a year with tips, they didn’t need that much in the way of a minimum wage. Seriously, he actually said that. Next, he tried a few ham-fisted attempts to make nice with the state’s waitstaff even as he still repeated his $100,000 line to friendly audiences, but that didn’t work out well. In fact, the most infamous meet-and-greet of his, at the Republican stronghold the Restaurante de Ol’ Mexico, gave local immigration activist Nick Espinosa (aka Robert Erickson) the chance to link Emmer’s inhumane attitude towards restaurant servers, many of whom are immigrants, with his similarly-inhumane attitude towards undocumented workers who are often exploited by employers seeking to use the workers’ "illegal" status as leverage.

No sooner had the hubbub over this died down than a new one erupted — and unlike the previous one, this one has had a nationwide reach.

What happened was that Target Corporation was found to have given, at the behest of its CEO Gregg Steinhafel, $150,000 to MN Forward — which, as noted earlier, claims to be "bipartisan" yet has run TV ads for (and spent the vast bulk of its money on) only one candidate, Tom Emmer.

Why is this a big deal? Because Target’s spent a lot of time and money marketing itself to the gay community — and Tom Emmer is a notoriously anti-gay politician. This touched off a firestorm, one that is still blazing with groups like MoveOn and Common Cause and the Human Rights Campaign all joining with other groups to condemn Target’s actions. MoveOn’s Ilyse Hogue pointed out that Steinhafel’s "apology" over this was nothing more than "I’m sorry I got caught".

All of this might help explain why MN Forward suddenly announced its endorsement of six candidates not named Tom Emmer last week — and golly gosh gee, three of them just happened to be Democrats: State Senators Terri Bonoff and James Metzen, and State Representative Gene Pelowski.

Bonoff’s endorsement seemed to be one that Brian McClung was particularly interested in flacking; as Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen notes, he repeated her name at least a dozen times during the August 5 taping of At Issue, Tom Hauser’s Sunday morning talk show on the Twin Cities’ ABC affiliate KSTP-TV. But that might not have been McClung’s wisest move, as Sorensen also notes, quoting from Bonoff’s response to the endorsement:

"I have always worked hard to maintain a constructive relationship with the business community that puts the needs of our state first. I’m also proud to have a voting record that reflects my commitment to equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, opportunity for working families, and the importance of a high-quality education.

"I am, however, concerned about the effect of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, which opened the door to direct corporate spending in political campaigns. This new influx of money, combined with self-financing millionaire candidates, threatens to drown out the voice of the people who are supposed to be deciding our elections.

"I remain committed to Minnesota’s long-standing and proud tradition of campaign finance laws that give everyone a fair chance to have their voice heard and force candidates to focus precious resources on the issues that matter most. I will continue working to defend these laws in the Legislature and call on the members of our state’s federal delegation to provide the leadership we need on this issue in Washington."

English translation: "Thanks for the kind words you didn’t really mean, Mr. McClung, but I think you and your group suck rocks and that the SCOTUS ruling that made your group possible sucks rocks as well, and I will work to fix things so your group ceases to exist."

And that is that.

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