The difficulty of achieving political compromise in Minnesota government was shockingly clear when Gov. Tim Walz told a roomful of journalists that compromising in public was no longer possible.
Walz spoke to journalists June 4 at the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists awards banquet. When he was challenged about secret negotiations taking place at the end of the legislative session, he spoke with some frustration saying without the secret negotiations there would have been a government shutdown.
He noted the resistance to compromise grew with every dueling press conference.
It would be easy to blame the actors in this drama if only we were convinced they alone are at fault. But they exist in an increasingly charged political environment driven by the growing influence of outside interest groups and money.
Of the $61 million spent on Minnesota campaigns last year, some 55 percent, or $33.4 million, came from outside sources or so-called independent expenditures. A number of House races topped $500,000 in expenditures, and independent expenditures in those races were in some cases four times the amount of the candidates’ own campaign funds, according to a report by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
The Finance Board notes that the influence of independent expenditures on the elections may be difficult to definitively determine, but there are signs of significant influence.
In the 21 House districts in Minnesota where independent expenditures exceeded the amount of campaign expenditures, 14 incumbents lost. And statewide, of the 17 House members who lost, only three were in districts where candidate campaign expenditures were greater than independent expenditures.
So, it’s clear that in many cases the majority of money spent on campaigns comes from outside sources who appear to have significant power and influence.
These outside influences ring loud as candidates attempt to compromise. So it should come as no surprise that candidates, Walz included, feel pressure to back their bases and the outside influences who bring money to the table.
Solutions are difficult, given the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which approved unlimited campaign spending by outside sources.
The only alternative to muting the influence of independent expenditures would be to require full disclosure of their sources and their backers, going deep into the donation dark rooms.
People and the media have an obligation to stand up against those outside influences, or at the very least shine light on them.
This problem will not go away without effort. We must give our elected leaders incentives to compromise instead of incentives to shut the government down.