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Whether campaign contributions influence Council Members’ votes on development projects

Note: Steve Minn is a former member of the Minneapolis City Council (its lone independent) who became a developer in the southeast part of the city, near the University of Minnesota. He needed the approval of the current City Council to proceed with plans to construct an apartment building at 600 Main Street S.E., Minneapolis. After an influential member of the Council, Gary Schiff, voted against approving the plans, Minn posted an extraordinary message on the Minneapolis e-democracy forum disclosing his financial relationship with Schiff. This exchange of emails provides a rare glimpse instead Minneapolis city politics with respect to money and policy.

Steve Minn, October 3, 2009 11:45 a.m.

I joined this forum to address this issue.

Gary Schiff solicited campaign contributions from me just prior to our development matters going to Planning Commission. Mr. Schiff called me and indicated that he had serious challengers - including Amy Arcand and Mr. Bicking -and that he needed money - lots of it and fast, prior to Caucus night.

I complied with the request, and "maxed-out" at $300. Mr. Schiff then called back and asked me to solicit further "maximum" contributions from my spouse, my parters Fred and John Wall - each whom complied and maxed out at $300. So, our development group contributed $1,200 to Mr. Schiff's campaign at his direct request.

Based on Mr. Schiff's animosity towards our 600 Main project, I could hardly assert that Mr. Schiff's influence was purchased by our contributions, and we certainly we not offering a bribe, so there was no quid-pro-quo in making the contributions...

However, it is a well known practice of Mr. Schiff, who has chaired Zoning & Planning for the last eight years to solicit contributions from the development community, with the implied power he has over zoning decisions.

Of all the other contributions I make to various Council Members - some whom are my personal friends, and some of whom I value greatly for their leadership and contribution for our city...none receive as much as I contribute or solicit for Mr. Schiff. And the reasons are perfectly clear. Mr. Schiff expects the contributions. He solicts them directly, and refusal is tantamount to insult to someone who sits on boththe Planning Commission and the Z & P Committee that hears appeals from the Planning Commission.

Based on the 600 Main outcome yesterday, I guess my partners and I have little to fear from a further deterioration of our relationship with Mr. Schiff. He went out of his way to manipulate the process and deny us our constitutional rights. BUT...that will be more detailed inour future litigation.

On the instant question of fundraising and donations from Mr. Schiff - he actively solicts them with an implied urgency - particulary from developers with issues pending before the Planning Commission or Council. It is not illegal and it is not improper, but it is certainly distasteful.

If Mr. Schiff wanted completely "clean hands" he could resolve the questions with a refund of contributions received from developers who have or had recent matters before is committee. That would be a recognition of the "appearance" of inpropriety, and would settle the question of ethics completely.

 

Irene Jones October 3, 2009 1:24 p.m.

Correction - Schiff and Glidden voted to support the 56-unit option. What's odd about all this is the fact that all of the CMs who voted for 79-units (Johnson, Goodman, Remington and Samuels), voted against the 56-unit compromise even after the 79-unit motion failed. The developer got nothing because those supporting his cause didn't think to make sure he got something (and only one of them would have needed to vote for it). What were they holding out for - to get sued? Don't blame the environmentalists - we were as surprised by the outcome as the developer.

 

Gary Schiff October 3, 2009 1:48 p.m.

I joined an 8-4 majority of the City Council and agreed with the neighborhood association, the Planning Department Staff report and the Planning Commission, which all recommended denial for his development proposal for 79 units. I voted for a compromise of 56 units, which failed on a tie vote.

Here's the staff report:
http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/2009-meetings/20090731/Docs/5_RPT-St
oneArchPhaseII-JV.pdf

Over 95% of the time, the planning staff reports are approved as recommended. This case was no different.

Steve is a hard-working developer who has had many projects come before the the Planning Commission. I've voted for some of his company's applications in the past, and I've voted against others.

Each is a case-by-case situation, depending on the merits, like all other quasi-judicial votes that come before me.

Donations to my campaign never influence my vote. Never have. Never will.

 

Joe Thomas October 3, 2009 2:45 p.m.

"Donations to my campaign never influence my vote. Never have. Never will. - Gary Schiff"

How about lack of donations?

 

Louis C. Brown October 3, 2009 3:39 p.m.

I don't live in Mr. Schiff's district, so I have no comment on his work as a Councilperson. I did find Mr. Bicking's link and summary about Schiff's large contributions very telling though. Developers, architects and lawyers (who presummably appear before his committee...)

As an affordable housing advocate, I stand firm for ANY project that adds to the City's inventory of affordable housing units. When developers do it voluntarily, and in prime locations like 600 Main, I am particularly pleased and encouraged. This is why an addition to Stone Arch Apartments, where I have friends who love it, and where I bike frequently was of interest to me.

Mr. Schiff's explanation that he supported the 56 unit version of the 600 Main proposal is a bit shallow. As I watched him on the City Cable last night, he loaded up the motion to approve with a number of amendments that sounded restrictive and burdonesome. Clearly he was trying to corral the proposal into something the developers did not want. I did not hear any comments from the developer during the public hearing, so i don't know if they agreed to these changes or not.

My concern on the end game here is that now there is nothing approved. I think Steve Brandt was wrong in his story this morning. I do not think the developer has two choices. I think they only have one choice, and that is to sue the City over a taking of the property, for failing to approve a reasonable use.

On that point, I think Schiff knew what he was doing, and his motion to move the staff recommendation with no approvals was an intentional move to try to acquire the land for a park. Irene Jones comments on this forum would confirm to me that Schiff was doing their bidding.

 

Jordan Kushner October 3, 2009 4:33 p.m.

Putting aside the merits of Gary Schiff's actions on this project and how much he is ultimately influenced by donations, it is disturbing that council members continue to solicit or even accept campaign donations from people who have direct financial interests in the CMs' actions. This continues to be the main dynamic that prevents any genuine democracy at all levels our government. While it can rarely be proven that any elected official was influenced by contributions on a specific decision, any overall analysis of various elected governmental bodies shows that various interests consistently benefit from financing campaigns. (Just look at the benefits of the health insurance and financial industries in Congress).

So what happened to campaign finance reform? This was a centerpiece of RT Rybak's original campaign in 2001. All he delivered, however, was cosmetic ethics rules shortly after election. Meanwhile, his list of campaign contributors is a who's who of local lobbyists and business interests, and the same with the most powerfule CMs such as Goodman and Schiff. Is any CM even attempting to prohibit contributions from parties with business interests before the city council? Do any CMs personally restrict their contributions?

 

Steve Minn October 3, 2009 6:24 p.m.

A thought on Gary Schiff's alledged "swift action" as reported in Ms. Jones narrative, (albeit with some factual errors).

By moving the staff recommendation for denial of all approvals - even the ministerial ones we are statutorialy entitled to - Mr. Schiff has perfected our case and enabled us to move directly to court. Thank you.

The thoughtful link from Ms. Jones concerning the Friends of the Mississippi web site has the following endearing quote: " Next steps are unclear, but it is hoped that the door to negotiation for acquiring the property will remain open. FMR hopes to play a constructive role in efforts to raise funds so MPRB can purchase the property for parkland."

Our comment: The land is not for sale and the door has never been open to a sale. Although the City has - in our view - just commited a taking, we are confident that remedies will be afforded outside the City Council venue, where the factual record will expose the City to all its unmutable flaws in the decision process. Diane Hofstede should get herself a good lawyer.

The conclusion to this saga will of course come months and years after the election, and the FMR and Sierra Club endorsements to the re-elected will have been paid for in full with our depravation of due process and denial of constituional rights. Maybe that WAS their intent?

Thank you for allowing me to post to this forum, which I will now remove myself from.

 

Tony Scallon October 3, 2009 6:39 p.m. (Note: Scallon is also a former City Council member.)

Mr. Minn

What happened to the citizens rights to have some controls on development?

So far, Mr. Minn has been allowed to attack the integrity of any elected official who opposed his project. I think we citizens have a right to limit the river development. I may be wrong. Explain the issue not make threats. I know this is a difficult issue.

What is scary is Mr. Minn even has veiled threats towards Councilmember Hofstede about a lawsuit. I have myself been part of a long legal suite because I supported the neighborhood and residents against a bar. It ended in the Federal courts where I won the right to have an opinion and represent the neighbors. The bar won the right to exist.

I would urge Mr. Minn to tone down the attacks against the integrity of Councilmembers Schiff and Hofstede. Let the process work itself out. Make a presentation on the merits.

 

Howard Wilbur October 4, 2009 12:39 a.m.

I am rather enjoying this discourse between Mr. Minn and the Schiff supporters, and I disgaree with Tony Scallon's comments that threats against any Alderman have been made. I thought the Minn revelations about Schiff's fundraising tactics was amazingly candid and revealing, not accusatory. Schiff's silence also revealing. I just looked at his campaign reports going back several years, and Minn is right. Clearly a pattern of developers, architects and lawyers constantly funding Schiff. Steve Brandt should be looking at this more closely. If not illegal, it is certainly feels unclean.

I read the Brandt's story posted Saturday evening in the paper, about Diane Hofstede refusing to comment about the "deal making" on 600 Main, and I immediately got an ill feeling all over again, akin to the Goodman - Hoyt decision. Here we go again, as Terrell Brown points out.

Innocent people assert their innocence. Denial of comment is a tacit admission of guilt when you are a public official. I'd like to hear her come out and say she didn't ask any Council Member to vote with her, and didn't request any "aldermanic courtesy." Then, we can look at the facts and make a decision in the court of public opinion.

This evening, I read the Friends of the Mississippi River website, with their history of involvement on the 600 Main site. Clearly, they have publicaly called for and even have Park Commissioner Annie Young on record as being ready, willing and able to condemn the 600 Main property, before any of the developers approvals were complete. I really smell the rat here. Too complicit a deal between the environmentalists, Park Commissioners and the Council Members who just rejected the project in its entirety.

I love parks, and I certainly want more parks than concrete. But in the face of a 12% tax increase, plus our new exposure to the police and firefighter union demands...we can't afford more lawsuits.

 

Steve Brandt October 4, 2009 6:45 a.m. (Note: Steve Brandt is a newspaper reporter.)

Actually, I was given a copy by the developers lobbyist of the outlines of a deal floated by the developers last summer under which the land was potentially salable if the city met certain conditions.

 

Louis C. Brown October 4, 2009 11:00 a.m.

If Mr. Brandt's post is correct, then Mr. Minn's comments above are not entirely correct, when he states:

" ...The land is not for sale and the door has never been open to a sale. Although the City has - in our view - just commited a taking, we are confident that remedies will be afforded outside the City Council venue, where the factual record will expose the City to all its unmutable flaws in the decision process..."

Mr. Brandt, if you have seen the proposed deal floated by the developers, I must have missed it in your reporting of the story as it unfolded. Would you characterize any of the "deal" as similar to the issues that were discussed at the Friday Council meeting?

My main concern is that if the developers actually attempted to compromise with the city to entertain a sale, and the city rejected that compromise, then the Friday action that completely rejects ALL approvals is particularly foolish and particularly aggregious. There have been two or three attempts at approvals over the last year. To reject all options would seem to the untrained eye to be wrong.

What was the legal minimum Wall/Minn were entittled to by law? Was it considered and rejected? If so, I think the taxpayers are at risk. But...If there is still a legal minimum to be considered and still an option to use the land, then the lawsuit seems less threatening.

Mr. Brandt, do you know if 96, 79 or 56 units as reported in your story were "legal minimums" the developer's were entitled to?

 

Mark Anderson October 4, 2009 7:12 p.m.

It is kind of ironic that early in this thread it was stated that Schiff did not accept contributions from developers. And now it seems the Mr Minn is accusing Schiff of not only accepting such contributions, but shaking down developers for contributions just prior to his deliberation about their developments. If this is true, then Schiff is a corrupt politician, whether or not it is illegal. And just like the Zimmermann case, it is still corruption even if he double crosses the developers and votes against them. I don't know whether or not 600 Main should be allowed, but the corruption issue is much more important than a one-time development issue. I'd love to hear if Schiff denies Minn's accusations.

 

Tamir Nolley October 4, 2009 7:27 p.m.

I don't know Ms. Jones, nor am I going to comment on the Stone Arch proposal as I have no opinion on it. But living in Longfellow and having had my former business nearly ruined by Mr. Schiff (via his mean-spirited attitude towards CERTAIN taxi drivers..mostly African..but it ended up including me as well,) I can honestly say that council member Schiff does NOT stand up for neighbors, or for constituents that don't agree with his every move or apparently donate money to his campaigns.

I believe this, not base on some record that I can prove, but based on the livelihoods of my friends who have been ruined and are still struggling with the economic after effect of Mr. Ostrow's and Mr. Schiff's mean spirited gutting of the Minneapolis Taxi Ordinance. I still clearly remember his smirk as he arrogantly talked down to another council member regarding that CM's concerns over the TWELVE amendments he (Schiff) added to the bill before just minutes before it was introduced.

On my block, near Minnehaha Ave (a charming working class neighborhood which is apparently considered blighted by the city and Hennepin County...small business that are being forced to close because the city is declaring imminent domain) residents and business owners alike speak of his vindictiveness and his inaccessibility towards those 9th ward constituents with whom he disagrees.

Not knowing much about the specific issue which Mr. Minn addresses, I suspect his characterization of Mr. Schiff is accurate.

I would like to know more facts about the campaign donations and the Stone Arch proposal.

A good investigation of Mr. Minn's allegations may reveal that there was no impropriety on the part of Mr. Schiff, but it should be done none the less, and BEFORE the election!

 

Suzanne Linton October 4, 2009 7:36 p.m.

I beg to differ. As I understand it, Gary Schiff voted against giving any decision making to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, and the result s that decisions are made downtown by the City Council rather than by the people who live there. It has also resulted in practically destroying the entire program for Neighborhood Revitalizaiotn. How can one say that he is for neighborhoods? He is not. He is for more concentrated power over the neighborhoods by the big shots down town.

 

Gary Schiff October 4, 2009 8:42 p.m.

"I'd love to hear if Schiff denies Minn's accusations."- Mark Anderson

Ok, Mark, here you go:

The only conversation I had with Steve Minn where he offered to contribute to my campaign happened in January. I don't know who his business partners are, I have never met the Walls. Steve offered to raise money from others.

We checked campaign deposit logs, checks from the Minns and Walls were deposited the same day in mid-February. That doesn't support the call-back-for-more-money scenario that Steve Minn recalls.

600 Main Street first appeared as a rezoning request on a Planning Commission agenda on March 23rd. Planning Commission agendas are released to Planning Commission members the Friday before, which would have been March 20. I had no knowledge in January that Minn was planning on submitting any land use applications later in the year. He didn't tell me, and I can't read minds. We discussed no city business during the call.

I have never solicited campaign contributions from people that I know are scheduled to appear before me on an agenda.

I respect Steve Minn's work to build housing. Reviewing development proposals against adopted neighborhood and city plans and zoning regulations isn't easy work, and it isn't always a clear call. In the future, I will continue to evaluate each land use application objectively. It's unfortunate that Steve Minn believes that land use decisions made by the Council correlate in any way to campaign support. I wish him the very best in future development proposals and that in the future I hope he comes up with ideas that conform to city land use plans.

 

Cam Gordon October 5, 2009 12:00 a.m. (Note: Gordon is a current member of the Mpls. city council.)

,I think Jordan raises some good questions and if we could use this particular incident to look at reforms to the way we regulate campaign financing in Minneapolis it would be great.

Yes, Minneapolis made strides in the right direction a few years ago when it passed a new Ethics Code that strengthened conflict of interest and disclosure of economic interest provisions as well as established an independent Ethical Practices Board and an Ethics Officer in the City Attorney's office.

But clearly some work was left unfinished. To help complete that work I have been focusing on two ideas for reform.

1) Stricter reporter rules. Instead of only having to report contributions over 100 dollars -- and these only at the end of every year and 10 days before an election -- candidates should be required to report more frequently and lower amounts. I am open to looking more specifically at how often and how much, but I would suggest that a report every 90 days of all persons making campaign contributions of more than $25 and those making aggregate totals of $100 or more during an election cycle would be reasonable and helpful. Right now during non election years we can only accept contributions of $100 or less, but only contributions over 100 have to be reported.

2) Prohibiting the acceptance of campaign contribution from anyone with business before the City. To my thinking this would include anyone who has a matter before the city council 90 days prior to and one year following any City Council hearing or decision regarding that person or business. The problem with this is that sometimes it is hard to know in advance. Still, contributions can be returned. I would like to also include the owners, officers, or executives of any such business or entity.

Before we can make head way on either of these ideas, it turns out, state law may need to be changed. Apparently the state legislature has passed some very specific laws governing reporting of campaign contribution that prohibit any changes to them. I plan to work to get the authority for Minneapolis to set stricter limits at the next legislative session and then to begin the work of convincing the Council to pass them. A first step will be making this part of Minneapolis legislative agenda this winter and to do that I will be a majority of the Council to support my efforts.
Jordan also asked, Do any CMs personally restrict their contributions?

I do. I have developed and live by a longstanding policy to neither solicit nor accept campaign contributions - even in-kind contributions like the free use of space, - from Political Action Committees, known lobbyists and people with business before the City. I have received two donations from PACs this cycle that I returned and one donation that I am sure came from someone with business before the City: an owner of a bar within the area around the U. When my campaign team reviewed recent contributors we found his $300 donation. He had sent it directly to my treasurer, who didn't know he had business before the City and it was deposited before we caught it. My campaign is returning the donation in full. My campaign has also turned down even a 'suggested donation' (well under what we would have had to report) at one of our fundraisers from a co-owner of a local theater, back when they had a matter before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

I believe that the City, Council Members, developers and other people who will have business before the Council as well as voters, would be well served if we formalize this personal rule of mine through ordinance. Clearly, though it is legal and 'not improper,' accepting or soliciting campaign funds from people with business before the City raises ethical questions and even the appearance of impropriety is not helpful in creating the sense of trust and confidence we need to feel about our elected representatives. We should be clear with elected officials and with developers that injecting campaign money into these questions clouds the issues that come before the Council and give the appearance of conflict of interest and misuse of authority.

Even if we need special permission from the Legislature (as it appears we do) to adopt these reforms and have a stronger campaign finance rules than the State has put in place, it's worth it.

We would all benefit from a campaign financing system that makes it crystal clear that the interests of the voters come first. Let me know if you would like to help.

 

Howard Wilbur October 5, 2009 8:18 a.m.

I thought Connie Sullivan's tome had some potential merit, so I went on-line and read the staff report on 600 Main, as she implored. The end result is that now I am certain Gary Schiff, Diane Hofstede have some additional explaining to do.

Here is what I was able to find:

1. In April, the staff report supported and recommended that the project be given higher density, and awarded 98 units, six stories of height and several conditional use permits. The staff report specifically says that surrounding area constitutes three "activity centers" - University, East Hennepin, and Downtown, and thus are highly appropriate for high density.

2. The planning commission and council rejected this staff recommendation.

3. In the staff report is specific mention that the Marcy Holmes small area plan wants the are for a park, but that the basis for the small area plan is a different plan that was not fully adopted.

4. The finding offered by the Council that the project was not entitled to 98 units was the not-yet-approved, but influencing small area plan, which staff specifically recommended the Council not consider.

5. In June a new application comes before the planning commission in existing zoning called an overlay. The applicant now asks for 79 units.

6. The staff report indicates that the project is entitled by existing rules to 40 units, plus 16 additional units my meeting two conditions, which hte project does. To get to 79 units, something called a variance is needed and staff recommends against that. Rational given is that project is NOT appropriate for high density and is not in any activity center.

7. This is very curious. Go back and read my # 1 bullet and then re-read #6.

How can a property go from being in an activity area for high density and then not in the area for high density all in a matter of two months?

8. The final recommendation in the staff report was to turn down the approvals of the 79 units, but in reading the text and narrative, the staff report clearly indicates 56 units is proper.

Ms. Sullivan, it would appear that whatever Mr. Minn did in the past to obtain approvals for other projects, he was entitled to something on this one and got nothing. As taxpayers, I think we are entitled to an explanation.

Questions:

Can Mr. Schiff or a staff member explain these apparent conflicts in the city's own staff report?

How did a piece of land go from a high density area to a not high density area in just a span of two months?

Did Diane Hofstede or Gary Schiff influence this seemingly about-face by the staff?

 

Steve Minn October 5, 2009 10:06 a.m.

I refute the revisionist history Gary Schiff has offered on this point.

1. Let's check the dates of the checks. My check for $300, pre-dates the next three checks Gary asked me to solicit from my partners, which came 7-10 days later - at Gary's request! That he deposited them all later in the month is not a valid test.

2. Let's check Gary's and my cell phone records. The back and forth calls will be of record. Gary called me several times. He should disclose his phone records which will correlate phone call dates to check dates. I will cooperate with any local, state or federal authorities in this probe.

3. I never accused Gary of a quid-pro-quo in soliciting contributions in exchange for a vote on 600 Main. In fact, my email goes to some pains to exclude that.It was a legal campaign contribution, solicited by Gary during an election cycle.

4. I charge Gary with willful solicitation of funds from those he has to render public decisions upon. Is that a crime? His direct solicitation efforts are untoward and distasteful, but legal. The implication is clear: "Pay because I review your applications..." No one else at City Hall is that brazen.

5. Cam Gordon's thoughtful approach under a differnt thread mirrors my own thinking and my own behaviors when I was a public official. I never accepted PAC monies,and I disclosed or recused myself whenever a matter came before me where a contributor over $100 was involved. I like Cam's 90 day ban even more.

Finally, this discourse may be viewed as sour grapes given our rejection on Friday - but I resist that label. Our complaint will stand on the merits of legal theories that are not being debated here.

I came forward because Dave Bicking's people raised this issue of campaign funds in the Schiff coffers, and because I think Gary Schiff owes voters an explanation before the election is held. I offerd important information, but stop well short of accusing Gary of soliciting bribes.

 

Kevin McDonald October 5, 2009 10:39 a.m.

The posts of the past several weeks underscore the need to pass campaign finance reform in Minneapolis.

It's time for us to be honest with ourselves -- it is no secret that some elected city officials, as well as candidates, happily receive (and even solicit) campaign contributions from individuals whose main motivation for giving are because of business with our city government. We also know that these businesspeople have expectations (example: GOP developer is large contributor to Pawlenty, Bush and other similar candidates, and also contributes to DFL-endorsed city elected officials/candidates). Further, we know that the general public is intensely cynical and skeptical about the current system of financing campaigns.

Minneapolis, why not seriously consider something akin to the Portland's model? They offer a "voluntary" campaign finance system for City Commissioner, Mayor, and Auditor elections.

Candidates may choose to participate in the system and receive public funds after qualification or they may choose to raise funds in a traditional manner. Candidates who choose to seek certification for public campaign financing by raising five-dollar Qualifying Contributions are referred to as "Participating Candidates."

To be eligible for certification, a Participating Candidate for Commissioner or Auditor must collect 1,000 verified $5.00 Qualifying Contributions from persons who are registered to vote in the City of Portland by the date the Candidate submits forms for the Request for Certification. Qualifying Contributions must be $5.00 exactly in the form of cash, check or money order.

All certified candidates will be eligible to receive an initial allocation of public dollars, less qualifying contributions and other "seed money contributions." Additionally, certified candidates who are outspent by nonparticipating candidates and/or independent expenditures may be eligible for matching funds.

I'm not arguing that we adopt wholesale Portland's approach. I certainly do not think candidates for Minneapolis city council need as much money to run a successful campaign (I ran a strong, albeit unsuccessful, campaign in 2005 with approximately $20k) as is offered in Portland. I am arguing though that the current system is seriously flawed and threatening our city's democratic infrastructure.

Who will step forward and offer leadership to fix our campaign finance system? Can we count on our current elected officials to change the existing system? If not, who?

To learn more about Portland's campaign finance system, visit
http://www.portlandonline.com/Auditor/index.cfm?c=38751

 

Janet Nye October 5, 2009 11:24 a.m.

For those wishing more information about the connection between Lisa Goodman and Gary Schiff I found this article from the most recent Downtown Journal. (see below) I find it interesting that in the comments, and in comments on the Mpls Issues list, that some people are okay with Lisa Goodman's vote against another condo development downtown. While I agree that another condo project is coals to Newcastle, Goodman, and apparently Schiff, should not be influencing decisions behind the scenes. What they are doing is illegal. For those pleased with the outcome this time, just think of the ill-conceived projects which have gone through possibly through chicanery by Council members. Not only that, the city will have to pay out from the taxpayer's pockets. This is the kind of illegal activity that has led to our present predicament. When the laws of a city are only to be obeyed by those not in power, we're in trouble.

 

Gary Dombouy October 5, 2009 11:45 a.m.

Janet, I read this too.

But it might help to be a Dave Bicking supporter to interpret the excerpt from the Downtown Journal statement below as anything more than that Councilmember Goodman was worried about the zoning committee AND Councilmember Schiff's decision on the the Loring Tower project.

It does seem like some the vituperative attackers this past weekend against Councilmember Schiff have the same kool-aid stains on your lips. Foxy campaign tactic!

 

Steve Minn October 6, 2009 3:27 p.m.

Mr. Dombouy got about 60% of the facts right. The other 40% is not relevant to the discussion.

I've done no public lobbying on this issue. We rather the Mayor leave everything alone. Better lawsuit for us.

I do not expect the Mayor to veto the Council action. It would be appropriate and smart for him to do it, but RT sold his brand to the environmentalists long ago, and his gubernatorial bid nothwithstanding...he is not going to veto the Council action over the environmental lobby's objections.

No...we expect the Courts to solve our development conflict and we expect all you nice folks in Minneapolis to look back, scratch your heads, and ask: "Wait..you mean this was avoidable...?
The answer will be: "... apparently not in an election year."

 

Bill McGaughey October 6, 2009

Steve Minn's posting and the discussion that followed have given us a rare discussion of fundamental political questions. Do campaign contributions influence a Council Member's vote on business pertaining to the contributor? Are they meant to do so? The honest answer would be "yes".

Minn has given us an inside view of the process from his perspective. I would guess that his motives and experience as a large contributor to campaigns are not far different from that of most other large contributors who have business before committees that include the recipient of their contributions. It's about more than "gaining access" to an elected official. It's about gaining support. So let's drop the pretense and explore the wider implications of this process.

It would be easy to say that the campaign contributor is "bribing" the elected official except that the money does not go into the elected official's pocket. It goes into a political campaign whose purpose is to elect or reelect the official. To do that, the campaign needs to communicate with voters. Campaigns for high office need to advertise to reach the mass of voters. They need to pay money to newspapers, radio stations, television stations, etc. That means that they need to raise the required money from contributors.

There is no choice in the matter: Either the money is raised or the candidate usually loses the election. So in a sense the candidate is victimized, too. The ultimate beneficiary of this system is the media. The campaign contributions, which result in favoritism toward particular business interests, ultimately go into their pockets.

That is why I get irritated when journalists focus on the amount of money raised by a campaign to determine whether or not a candidate is viable. Yes, the financial reporting required of campaigns makes it easy for journalists to compare candidates in this way. On the other side, the amount of money raised by candidates represents a future meal ticket for the journalists when the campaigns have to advertise. They are, in effect, benefiting from a system which fosters corruption.

I think we're on a downward spiral toward corruption. Yes, particular individuals are involved in this more than others, but really it is the result of a system - a system that requires heavy advertising expenditures for candidates to be elected to public office. This system is bad for our community and it is bad for the democratic process. We need to begin thinking more seriously of alternatives.

The alternatives to Big Media have already begun to emerge. This discussion list is one of them. Anyone can post almost any opinion without paying a fee. Only civility is required. This becomes possible through the generosity of those who manage and finance the E-democracy forum and those who moderate the discussions. Public-access channels on cable television represent another possibility. Their financing is the result of a concession made by the cable-television provider that was granted a monopoly by city government. Small-scale printed newspapers, e-newspapers, blogs, etc. also provide a valuable journalistic service. Behind them stands usually a dedicated proprietor who bears both the financial and journalistic burden, helped by a few paying advertisers or financial contributors.

If political candidates can get their messages out through media such as these, there is less pressure upon the campaigns to raise lots of money. Office holders would then be less beholden to special interests that have contributed to campaigns. But hard-working journalists have to eat. The challenge will be how to support these enterprises through something more than altruism. If well-paid people did the work for free in their spare time, that might be a solution. I suspect, however, that the advertising model will have to be adapted in new ways to this new situation. The large media organizations will also have to adapt.

The other side of the coin is the regulatory process in Minneapolis and other large cities that gives elected officials a lucrative gatekeeping role. If it were up to me, I would say that anyone who owns land and has enough money to construct a building to sit upon this land should be allowed to do so without gaining the city's permission. Now, of course, the city has a legitimate interest in ensuring the health and safety of the public and in enacting regulations to that effect. However, the city of Minneapolis has gone much farther than this. In its complex regulatory process, requiring the approval of many players, it has, in effect, erected a series of toll booths manned by well-placed individuals or groups needing and wanting to be paid.

Steve Minn's project had to pass through a number of these toll booths. It may be in the nature of government to erect these structures; but so many? I hope that the Libertarians out there will come to our city and try to apply their minimalist principles. This would be a good testing ground.

 

Suzanne Sharp October 6, 2009 5:09 p.m.

I called the Mayor's office this afternoon and was told the Mayor has released a statement, indicating he will support the vote taken by the City Council, and not veto the rejection of 600 Main last Friday.

I am so disappointed at how cavalier our elected officials are when it comes to exposing us to lawsuits!

The young woman who took my call told me that the City gets sued every day, and that the Mayor and Council do not make policy based on the threat of lawsuit.

I guess a year from now, after they are all safe in their re-elected seats, and Mr. Minn has punished the taxpayers for this behavior, we will forget that the opportunity to avoid a fight was available. We'll just be mad that we are paying for it.

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