Reading the City Pages Blotter this morning, Bluestem laughed at the headline in Rep. Kathy Lohmer uses taxpayer money to wrap her Korean car with American flag. Aaron Rupar writes:
In a move that's sad and troubling on multiple levels, first-term Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, recently spent $2,678 -- some of it from taxpayers -- to wrap her Korean-made vehicle in the American flag.
News of the expenditure prompted The Stillwater Gazette to write a highly critical editorial. "Yes, it takes someone with unmitigated gall to brandish the American flag and U.S. Constitution on a foreign vehicle. It takes Kathy Lohmer," the editorial says.
Clicking through to the "editorial," Bluestem noticed that while the "Stillwater Gazette" had posted Lohmer flaunts disregard for our tax dollars, the "editorial" was written by Lee Salisbury of Stillwater, and thus the editorial looks suspiciously like a letter to the editor.
Editorials aren't usually signed--and those newspapers in Minnesota that do post signed editorials, like the Winona Daily News, also publish a note that the piece is written on behalf of the editorial board. One would think that Rupar might have been a bit curious, but then, it's likely that he took his cue not from the original source, but from the progressive blog of the hour, LeftMN, which gets a photo credit in the Rupar post, but not a link or hat tip.
It's hard to find the photo at LeftMn, buried as it is in the Weekly Rap. Here we find the homonym-challenged and sentence-boundary jumper Tony Petrangelo's label of the Salisbury piece:
This opinion piece from the Stillwater Gazette needs to be accompanied by the proper photograph, found below.
The blog posts about the "editorial" and the "opinion piece" need to be accompanied by the screenshot of the Stillwater Gazette's Letters-to-the-Editor page. The "editorial" and "opinion piece" is indeed a letter to the editor.
Neither blogger seems to have had much curiosity about the letter-to-the-editor or filing system of the Stillwater Gazette to check out these basics. Did Petrangelo find the letter on his own and have no curiosity about the Gazette's format? It certainly doesn't seem like he's a regular reader of the paper or he'd know about this wrinkle.
The City Pages post is comic gold, however, since Rupar was widely cited during the Parry-Quist primary (including by Bluestem) for pointing out that Mike Parry had tweeted a letter from the Faribault Daily News (which Rupar does know well, since he was once a staff writer at the Huckle paper) as if it were an editorial in Mike Parry falsely claims Faribault Daily News' endorsement; gets scolded by editor.
Here's that scolding: "Faribault Daily News didn't say that, a reader in a letter to the editor says that. Big difference, Senator."
Rupar--and to a lesser degree Petrangelo--can consider themselves scolded. The Gazette could help out curiosity-challenged bloggers--and the political operatives who feed them, then amplify those postings-- by following the standard journalistic practice of adding "To the Editors" at the top of each missive it publishes from a reader so that the Twin Cities blogger boyz echo chamber won't have it so hard.
Update: Already, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, has tweeted the Stillwater Gazette letter using the exact format that got Mike Parry in hot water with the FDN editors:
Nice work if you can get it. [end update]
Update #2: The City Pages has corrected its copy, but it's still pretty funny anyway.
The state campaign finance subsidy
Given the push on the part of progressives to get corporate money out of politics, it's rather peculiar to highlight a letter that spins the Public Subsidy Program--meant to level the field for regular folks to enter politics--into an "at taxpayer expense" meme.
The program is rarely attacked for that reason; to get the subsidy, a candidate must be endorsed by a major party or win nomination via a primary and raise $1500 in $50 increments if running for the House and agree to spending limits. The set of general principles and conditions is set out here.
The money itself comes from the state's general fund, according to a check-off on state income tax forms:
The payment after the primary comes from the party account in the state elections campaign fund. The party account consists of the amounts designated by taxpayers for a particular political party. The amount of the checkoff is $5 per taxpayer. Its cost is paid by a transfer from the general fund to the state elections campaign fund, so checking off does not increase the amount the taxpayer pays or reduce the amount of the taxpayer's refund. The amounts checked off for each party are credited to the party's account and allocated among the various statewide and legislative offices in accordance with a statutory formula.
At one time, individuals could have that $50 ($100 for married couples) refunded by the Political Contribution Refund Program, but that was unalloted by Governor Pawlenty and has not yet restored.
I've only seen the argument made that the subsidy uses tax dollars a couple of places. in an anti-ALEC blog, Because I Can. In a post, Kiffmeyer (R-MN) - On Hiding ALEC Expenses, the anonymous blogger notes that Kiffmeyer was "hiding" ALEC expenses by reporting them in her campaign finance:
Which means as a taxpayer -I subsidized her to attend that DAMN ALEC meeting.If there's nothing wrong with belonging to ALEC...Why does ALEC hide their membership lists andwhy do ALEC members deny belonging to ALEC andwhy do ALEC members hide money spent on ALEC?Guess that's a lesson to me that I need to be more creative
Kiffmeyer isn't "hiding" her expense. In fact, she is taking one direction of two advised in a 1990s ruling by the Campaign Finance Board. Former House member Ken Wolf asked if his travel to ALEC meetings and lodging while there amounted to a gift from a lobbying group. If so, could his own campaign committee funds be used for travel. The board ruled that he cou;dn't accept the travel and lodging, but allowed that members could use campaign funds allocated under "noncampaign expenses" related to being in office; the other alternative was paying out of pocket.
Occasionally complaints come up in blogs about campaigns that take the public subsidy and break the rules with the money, but Kiffmeyer's accounting isn't one of those cases. Those complaints are well-founded, since candidates who take the money must abide by those rules.
While scolding Lohmer for wrapping a Korean-car manufacturer's car in an American flag is fair game, Bluestem wonders how far down that road any party or group wants to go dragging the public subsidy behind it. Will Zellers and Senjem send caucus campaign staff out into the parking lots of local DFL candidates to check the make of DFL field workers and trackers and bring up the hypocrisy of using union and taxpayer dollars if anyone's driving a foreign car?
Or will there be calls to get rid of the public subsidy outright?