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From the Left Hand Corner: Political Campaign Refund revisited

One of the minor things the Legislature did this past session is a good, small step in financing our political campaigns.

The Legislature reinstated and funded our pre-existing Political Campaign Refund (PCR) procedure. While some of us argue for a lot more in the way of public financing of major elected office campaigns, and some countries totally fund campaigns, we are not at such a point in this country at present or, likely, in the near future.

Our state PCR program is a small step in a good direction. It is scheduled to be re-enacted as of July.

Basically, what it provides is that an individual voter can contribute up to $50 in any given year to the political party of his or her choice, partisan political state or local candidate of their choice, and be reimbursed. The individual must have the donation validated and submit documentation to the state, and usually within a month or two will receive the reimbursement.

It is as simple as it is effective.

More important, the reimbursement feature constitutes one small, small step in reducing the pervasive influence of big money on our political scene.

One of the beneficial factors is that it encourages participation in the political selection process, beyond the usual and somewhat one-sided bombardment of moneyed advertising. Also, everyone likes to experience those rare occasions when they feel that they can get something for nothing, and this program provides that opportunity to the individual participant.

The program instills interest in the political process in a positive way that is quite definitely grassroots-oriented. Basically, with minimal hoop jumping, it hands the individual $50 to spend on the candidate or party of his or her choice.

It is true that it requires the accumulation and spending of the dollars before repayment. That can be a real barrier for those who need every dollar to keep going. but the provision doesn’t require a whole $50 at any one time. It applies to lesser amounts for the year, and the individual can make smaller contributions through the year and still be reimbursed.

The refund provision enhances interest and participation because many who otherwise would not, or simply could not do so, become contributors. In the process, they generally want to make that precious donation dollar have maximum impact in keeping with their political opinion or philosophy, whatever that might be. Consequently, they are likely to do some comparison shopping before they actually kick in with their 50 bucks, or share thereof.

It encourages those who become sufficiently motivated to participate, to take a critical look at the appeals presented by the multiple choices competing for contribution.

A followup result is that individuals who are induced to participate in the rebate process end up feeling that they are invested in the result of the contest they contributed to.

Another positive side effect to the refund program is that it improves political campaigning in general, particularly at the local level. Obviously, $50 donations are of more significance in local campaigns, to the candidates, whether Republican or Democrat.

But such candidates are also cognizant that potential constituent participants are subject to whoever makes the best case for their dollars. Each candidate will have to convince the individual that his or her request for funds is most appealing.

Whether the competition is from other local candidates, statewide candidates or political party units, the individual can only spend the reimbursed $50 one time in the calendar year.

Overall, this writer is of the view that the more people involved in the political process, whatever their party or persuasion, the better governmental result. This small persuasion toward participation increases the number of people involved.

So far as I know, this refund program is fairly unique to Minnesota. At least acquaintances from neighboring states indicate they are unaware of any such process. Most Minnesotans probably haven’t heard much about it, either.

No doubt some DFLers will question why this incorrigible old DFLer presents the PCR refund provision in a positive light in this conservative area. Others will ask, why did they bother to reinstate it?

That is because the history of the provision. When it was previously in place, it generated more dollars to the Republican Party than to the DFL. Simply, Republicans did a better job of selling the program and persuading their members and others likeminded to take advantage of the reimbursement feature. So be it.

Regardless of how it was utilized or experienced in the past, the above observations stand. Even from a strictly partisan viewpoint, to the extent it helps elect any Republican officeholder, I’d rather have that person be a Republican who was elected with the financial backing from local, like-minded folks than one bought and sold by the Koch brothers or some billionaire from Las Vegas.