If there's anyone here left wondering how politics gets more and more and more toxic, Minnesota has given us the latest example.
Minnesota's campaign finance regulators ruled Friday that two conservative groups that raised money to thwart Mark Dayton's bid for governor failed to properly register with the state as political funds.
But the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board declined to fine the groups, saying it found no “intentional plan or strategy” to avoid disclosure of donors.
The ruling stems from a complaint this fall filed by watchdog group Common Cause Minnesota. It said money for TV ads critical of Gov.-elect Mark Dayton had been illegally funneled from the Republican Governors Association [RGA] through a “shell corporation,” Minnesota Future LLC, to avoid disclosing the source of donations.
“The board is sending a message to special interest groups that no one will hold them accountable for violating campaign disclosure laws,” said Common Cause Minnesota Executive Director Mike Dean, who was disappointed the groups weren't fined.
Yes, ultimately Democrat Mark Dayton won.
And, yes, there are differences in the law between murder, attempted murder and negligent homicide. However, all are crimes. No one gets executed for a negligent homicide conviction – even in Texas (much less Minnesota) – but there is jail time (or, at the very least, probation and the stain of a criminal conviction.)
At the other end of the spectrum…
If I know that no cop will ever issue me a speeding ticket – and that if one does, any judge who hears the case will never allow me to actually be fined – I'm not really going to give a damn about how far the needle on my speedometer drifts past 70 when I'm out on I-80.
No one is suggesting that those behind these conservative groups be executed or locked up for life – and some may not even want them locked up at all – for violating the rules in question, but who will ever make any effort to abide by any campaign rules if they know that they'll never pay any price?
And what sort of price actually matters if the illegal campaign practices have their desired effect? In 2002, mealy-mouthed 2012 presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty got caught, was found to have violated the rules and was actually fined. But, eight years later he's an outgoing two-term governor and a mealy-mouthed 2012 presidential aspirant who has been legitimized in the latter role by the corporate media.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty has now accepted full responsibility for campaign practices that a state review board found illegal. The decision could represent a substantial setback for Pawlenty, who also announced he would temporarily suspend television ads while his campaign assesses its options. But Pawlenty vows he'll vigorously press the campaign until the end.
Just one day after the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled against the Pawlenty campaign and the state Republican Party, Pawlenty gathered supporters around him to accept the board's decision.
The board ruled that an estimated 0,000 in television ads produced by the party were incorrectly identified as the sort of soft-money independent expenditures that are subject to limited regulation. The board's order requires Pawlenty to count the ads as direct contributions, a decision that will eat deeply into the campaign's .2 million spending limit.
Pawlenty, who's run his campaign around the catch-words of accountability and trust, says accepting the board's ruling demonstrates those principles.
Admitting that what he did disqualified him from the race would have demonstrated those principles. The ads had run when they did – bells that could not be un-rung.
He's one of the darlings of the Plutonium Politics set.