Thursday, December 24, 2009


Here's an interesting article I ran across regarding politics in Wisconsin. It address the issue of candidates who are not rich running against candidates who are wealthy. This article is from 1988 but still relevent today in Minnesota.

The Race for Congress; Choice in Wisconsin: Rich Is (A)Evil or (B)Good

by DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, Special to the New York Times
Published: October 31, 1988

MILWAUKEE, Oct. 28— In a state that prides itself on progressive politics and clean government, Herbert Kohl, one of the wealthiest men in Wisconsin, is spending millions of his own dollars to win a seat in the United States Senate.

His opponent, Susan Engeleiter, Republican leader of the State Senate, is accusing him of trying to buy the election.

''Sometimes,'' she said as she drove along Interstate 94 to Kenosha the other day for a fund-raising event, ''I feel as if I'm up against a 40,000-pound gorilla. I mean, I might as well be running against an incumbent. If he wins, I'm afraid it means that people of ordinary means cannot run for public office.'' 

Mr. Kohl has apparently succeeded in turning that argument on its head. Several years ago he sold Kohl's, his family's chain of supermarkets and department stores, and he now owns the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, among other investments. 

He maintains that since he can afford to reject all endorsements and money from interest groups, he would be indebted to no one but those who voted for him. 

His campaign slogan: ''Nobody's senator but your own.''

Mr. Kohl, a Democrat who has never held elective office, has raised only a few hundred thousand dollars, mostly from old friends, but he has used at least $4 million of his fortune to finance what may be the most expensive television campaign any candidate ever ran in Wisconsin. He hopes to succeed William Proxmire, also a Democrat, who is retiring after 31 years in the Senate.

In a paradoxical way, Mr. Kohl has built on the pride that Wisconsin voters feel about Senator Proxmire. For years, the Senator has been perhaps the most independent-minded member of Congress, a conservative on fiscal policy and a liberal on social policy who seemed immune to all influences but his conscience.

Mr. Proxmire did not accept money from interest groups either. He did not have to. In his last campaign, six years ago, he spent a total of $145, mainly for postage and the filing fee. He won in a landslide. ''The theme of this campaign has been, Who can be the most like Bill Proxmire?'' said David Wegge, director of the St. Norbert College Survey Center, the poll taker for Wisconsin Public Radio. ''Kohl has done that by demonstrating that his wealth gives him independence.'' 

Wisconsin was one of the few states where Republicans once thought they had a good shot this year at a Senate seat now held by a Democrat, but those hopes are waning. Mrs. Engeleiter, who has raised and spent less than $2 million, says her own polls show her trailing by nine percentage points. Most independent polls put the margin at nearly twice that. 

Mr. Kohl, who is 53 years old, proposes cutting 10 percent from the Pentagon budget, spending significantly more on programs for the poor and raising the taxes of the wealthy. But he insists he is not a liberal. He says his experience in business would help him understand economic matters in Washington, and he stresses his reputation, justified even according to his critics, as a benevolent employer.

''Just because I'm rich does not mean I don't care about the problems of ordinary people,'' he says. 

Mrs. Engeleiter adopts most of the positions of the Reagan Administration on economic and foreign policy. President Reagan is coming here next week to campaign for her. But she breaks with the Administration on many social issues. She believes abortions should remain legal, for example, although she would deny Federal payments for abortions for poor women in most circumstances. 

Mrs. Engeleiter is the only woman running in a competitive Senate race this year. In her stump speeches and television commercials, she emphasizes her own family - she and her husband have a 4-year-old daughter and a -year-old son - and her concern for families generally, an unspoken allusion to the fact that Mr. Kohl is a bachelor. 

If elected, Mrs. Engeleiter, who is 36, would be not only the youngest Senator but also the first female senator ever with small children. She considers herself a feminist, but she has received almost no help from national or local women's organizations. 

Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, took issue with Mrs. Engeleiter's opposition in most cases to Medicaid payments for abortions. ''We have several bottom-line questions, and if you're against us on any of them, we won't support you,'' Ms. Yard said. 

M r. Kohl is not the first candidate to use his personal fortune to finance a race for the Senate. Several sitting Senators did so, including John Heinz, Republican of Pennsylvania, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, both Democrats. 

Great wealth does not guarantee election. For instance, Mark Dayton, heir to the Dayton-Hudson department store chain in Minnesota, spent about $5 million of his own money in 1982 and still lost to Senator Dave Durenberger, a Republican.

But many experts find the system worrisome. ''The way it works today,'' said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, the public affairs lobby, ''unless you have your own personal wealth or access to large sums of special interest money, you face an extraordinarily difficult chance of winning.''

Mr. Kohl agrees that the system should be changed, and he says he would support public financing of Congressional elections.

But as he flew in a chartered plane Friday to north-central Wisconsin for a day of campaigning, he said that this year he would spend whatever it took to get elected.

''I've never been a politician,'' he said. ''I have to spend money so people will get to know who I am. If I were some kind of a rich boob, people would not support me. But I'm not, and they see that.''  Source.

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