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Corporations and the Democratic Process

In Issues and Debate on October 30, 2010 at 11:20 pm

In a recent paycheck, employees of McDonald’s franchisee Paul Siegfried of Canton, Ohio recieved a ‘handbill’ stating the owner’s support for three GOP candidates with the ‘suggestion’ that victories by any others would affect the raises and/or benefits in the future. With a legal investigation of voter intimidation underway, this is another situation of corporate involvement in the democratic process.

In the wake of the Citizen’s United Case out of the U.S. Supreme Court, corporate involvement in the body politic has come under greater scrutiny from the Obama Administration and the greater public as well. Earlier this year, Minnesota based Target Corp. and Best Buy Corp. came under fire for contributions made to MN Forward, a right-wing political organization supporting GOP candidates throughout Minnesota including gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. The response from GLBT groups and their supporters was a call to boycott Target Corp. and Best Buy to a lesser degree. The greater question then becomes; with greater freedom for corporations in the political sphere, what right does the voting public have in calling for boycotts and protesting the actions of corporations?

With reference to Target Corp. the story continued as CEO Gregg Steinhafel has reiterated Target’s support for GLBT communities and inclusiveness through charitable donations and domestic partner benefit programs. This is indeed true, though Steinhafel needs to recognize that though economic issues may be the sole raison d’être for corporate political involvement, the voting base on both sides of the aisle have a much wider political spectrum to consider. With respect to both Target and Best Buy Corp., this very nature is one of many reasons why so many of us prefer corporations to remain out of the political realm.

Expounding upon the true nature of corporate political involvement, Target Corp.’s own website does an excellent job of summing up a corporation’s ‘business interests’ when it comes to campaign contributions. The website states clearly:
 Political Contributions: Target contributes to political candidates, caucuses and causes in a non-partisan manner based strictly on issues that directly affect our retail and business interests. We do this through corporate contributions where legally permissible as well as through the Target Citizens PAC, which is funded through the voluntary efforts of our team members. Because our activities are non-partisan, the percentage of overall giving to various political parties changes from election to election as a reflection of the political makeup of Congress and the legislatures in states where corporate contributions are legally permissible.

The use of corporate funds for political expenditures is managed as follows:

•Legal Compliance: All political contributions are made in compliance with all applicable laws and corresponding reporting requirements. To ensure compliance, all corporate contributions are reviewed and approved in advance by Target’s vice president, Governmental Affairs, with input from legal counsel where appropriate.
•Contribution Criteria: Before any contribution is made, we determine that the contribution is consistent with our business interests and, under the circumstances, is an appropriate means of advancing our public policy position. This determination is made either by our vice president and Government Affairs, executive vice president and general counsel or our chairman and chief executive officer.
•Board and Management Oversight: Corporate political contributions and related activities are reviewed regularly with our senior management, and reported on an annual basis to the Corporate Responsibility Committee of the Target Board of Directors.

As the website states, contributions to PACs, candidates, causes, etc. are made in a ‘non-partisan’ manner in pursuit of the company’s business interests. Though this statement sounds benign enough, the mistake is made in that there is no such thing as ‘non-partisan’ in modern American politics. Target Corp. has seemingly fallen into the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand is doing trap. It is ultimately disingenous to suggest that while, yes Target Corp. does support GLBT causes as well as numerous education funds via everyday donations, it also supports candidates that oppose those same causes in several cases. Target Corp.’s non-profit contributions become almost meaningless when one considers that the candidates Target supports are fighting to prevent the outcomes that Target Corp.’s charitable giving is meant to produce.

Target Corp.’s ultimate goal of supporting only its ‘business interests’ is also foolhardy when considered against the greater reality that social freedom is simply good for business. Target Corp. like many businesses seems to believe that economic forecasts, P/L analysis, and profit projections and metrics is the only indication of where the bottom line is and how it ought to move forward. The truth is, social inclusion, tolerance, and the simple expansion of civil rights is one of the best ways to spur economic growth. A cohort population living in fear or feeling unable to advance in their daily economic lives stifles consumer spending as well as productivity. By wading into the political waters with the average voter, Target Corp. and every other large organization must make social issues apart of its analysis when making political contributions or simply stay out of the water altogether.  

Alas, the answer lies in the economic system itself, as voters are also consumers. At the ballot box we decide with our votes, but at the checkout counter we decide with our dollars. Just as we can respectfully disagree with our fellow citizen’s at the ballot box, so to can we disagree at the local department store. The right to vote is fundamental and synonomously, so to is the right to spend our personal income any way we wish. If the courts and the political branches of government cannot hold corporations accountable or lock them out of the political arena, then we as consumers and voters must do our part.


2010 Mid-Term Predictions

In Minnesota Political News on October 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Well everyone, with the mid-term elections just 4 days away, its time for some predictions. Its important to note that I’m a bit left of center as political leanings, though my predictions will be made to eliminate a liberal bias. For those who believe I should be stumping for a DFL Candidate here, please remember I’ve done my time in the trenches door-knocking, phone-calling, at parades, and even a start-up Draft campaign for this years gubernatorial election. This analysis is based upon the trends I see and the numbers.

First up, the Minnesota Governor’s race. I will be voting for Mark Dayton personally and I also think he’s going to win. With this race, I believe Dayton will keep enough support in the Twin Cities coupled with continuing strong support outstate and particularly the Iron Range and parts north of the metro region. Dayton has led in the polls consistently, though narrow at times. In fact the up and down swing of the polls suggest that many of  Minnesota’s notoriously independent minded voting base is still divided in large part. The exception of course will be in the 6th Congressional District.

In the First Congressional District, Tim Walz will be re-elected. Walz’s more likable personal qualities combined with his pragmatic policy approach will continue in Southern Minnesota possibly for as long as he wants the job. Walz’s consistent lead in the polls in recent weeks with a 4 point jump just recently, makes this an easy one to call.

In the Second Congressional Distict, I see John Kline staying on top. Kline’s more conservative approach and message of fiscal responsibility remains a strong pull for voters in the Southern Metro Region. Without any traction in the media and a splintered democratic base, Shelley Madore is in a very weak position to challenge Kline.

For the Third Congressional District, I’m going with Erik Paulson to edge out Jim Meffert. Dispite seemmingly superfluous sparring over medicare benefits and healthcare reform, this district leans Republican. Keep in mind that Obama won here in 2008 with 53% though, making this a swing district for now and the foreseeable future. Where have you gone Jim Ramstad? A district turns its lonely eyes to you.

The Fourth and Fifth Congressional Districts of Minnesota are possibly among the easiest to predict nationwide as Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum have solid democratic bases in Minnesota’s most urban districts. With that said some news of note in the 4th District includes Theresa Collett sparring with Betty McCollum over the phrase “under God” which, not surpisingly, rouses a debate over separation of church and state vis-a-vis the First Amendment. Meanwhile, Keith Ellison is battling not in a tight race, but a racist with Tea Party heavyweight Judson Phillips calling for an end to his membership in Congress simply because he is a Muslim for it is a faith that says, according to Phillips, “kill people who disagree with you,” and “that is something voters should seriously consider when they vote.” Obviously Phillips has never met Rep. Ellison, nor made any effort to understand Islam.

In Minnesota’s 6th District, Tarryl Clark and Michele Bachmann have waged the most vitriolic campaign of the year. The polls say Bachmann will win this one, but not without raising and spending more money than any congressional campaign in Minnesota history. Experts suggest Bachmann’s war-chest allows for greater political freedom and planning. While this may be true, Bachmann could never win a race in Minnesota outside of the 6th Dsitrict and for that reason, a Senate run or greater seems unlikely, but Bachmann will surely surprise us nonetheless.

In Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, the call is for Colin Peterson in a not-so-tight race with Lee Byberg. Though a conservative district for the most part, the 7th District has found the DFL version of Jim Ramstad in Colin Peterson. Peterson will most likely be in a safe seat in the near-term if not longer.

Coming down in the 8th Conressional District of Minnesota, we find Jim Oberstar in a tighter than expected race with Republican Chip Cravaack. The Iron Range has been a DFL stronghold for decades, but the current polarized political climate may be slowly changing all of that.

Public Priorities and Tax Dollars

In Issues and Debate on October 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm

My recent blog debate over tax dollars and attendence to a seminar about youth issues has given rise to renewed thinking about how our tax dollars are derived and conversely, how they are spent.

Congressman Keith Ellison reminds me that a nation’s spending of public dollars is often a sign as to where its prioities lie. For this post I will desseminate the funding and justifications for the construction of TCFBank Stadium on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus in Minneapolis. The ultimate cost of the stadium equalled approximately $288.5 million. 52% of this cost came from the University itself, while 48% came from the State of Minnesota to the tune of around $225 million. As retrieved from Minnesota Public Radio, this comes to about $10 million per year (with interest) for the states taxpayers over 25 years to the tune of a rough $1.7 million per game. As students at the U of M well know, a student fee of about $12.50 per semester has also been assessed to help fund TCFBank Stadium. Though much of the University’s costs for the new stadium have indeed been raised via private donations, a significant burden remains upon Minnesota taxpayers and students (who also pay taxes).

This link connects to the stadium’s official website where “you” unsurprisingly can still donate;  

With every debate over such taxpayer funded projects, TCFBank Stadium proponants look to economics as the method of justifying such expense. These arguments often revolve around notions including lifting local businesses, preserving and/or creating jobs via said project, increasing the revenue base for local and state governments, etc. For the University itself, promotion and prestige are often cited as justifications. The two primary questions that arise out this mode of thinking truly come down to the economic stream and what is the primary function of a major public institution such as the University of Minnesota and does this project help or hinder in fulfilling that function?

The economic stream concerning these projects truly exists in a twofold manner. The first is a question of where would the economic activity surrounding this stadium be if it did not exist and the second is what are we sacrificing via public spending to have this project? The idea that TCFBank Stadium is somehow creating “brand new” revenue streams and “brand new” jobs is fallacious on its face. Without the existence of the stadium, potential patrons would spend money elsewhere, whether it be on bills, everyay items such as groceries, or another form of entertainment, all of which support an economic outcome somewhere (maybe not where policy makers or proponants would prefer) and synonomously would support jobs associated with those dollars where ever they may be spent. Projects such as stadiums don’t “print” currency for consumption or create new jobs where none existed, lest the folks at the Metrodome had nothing to do with running a stadium. Ultimately, such projects and expenditures simply move resources around and propel one industry over another.

The University of Minnesota purports to conform to a “Mission” that contains three principles including: Research and Discovery, Teaching and Learning, and Outreach and Public Service. With this “Mission” in mind, does the building of TCFBank Stadium match the educational as it is laid out? The University of Minnesota, like all similar public institutions, expounds a standard of education as its priority and primary function. The University of Minnesota may forgive my skepticism, but as the tuition rate has doubled in the past decade, and nearly $300 million was collectively spent on a new football stadium, this “Mission,” this priority of education, appears to be the ramblings of policy-makers more interested in prestige, than in Minnesota’s students and workforce.

In the Fall of 2009, the primary revenue scales at the University of Minnesota finally tipped toward the students, as student tuition now shoulders the greatest burden of the University’s overall operating budget. As tuition has double in a decade, student debt has also risen 157% in that time, making the University of Minnesota an institution now built primarily on the debt of its students. One wonders how much of that $225 or so million the state committed to TCFBank Stadium could have alleviated some of this burden at the least. Considering the University’s proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2011 is $1.53 billion, the state’s portion paid for the construction of TCFBank Stadium is equal to 6.8% of that budget . That’s no insignicant number and that puts at least one contributing number to what we and our students have sacrificed to provide a football stadium for our largest public institution. The true cost of this decision among many others, is the educational standards our great state once held and the opportunity to meet those standards by our students.

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