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In wake of scandals, corporate oversight becomes issue in Senate race
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
July 8, 2002


Sen. Paul Wellstone has now filed to run for a third term. Wellstone also pushed for legislation to tighten corporate oversight. Corporate accountability could become a key campaign issue, with two of Wellstone's opponents also speaking out against corporate accounting scandals.

Sen. Paul Wellstone greets state Sen. Mee Moua, one of about 100 supporters who greeted Wellstone as he filed campaign papers for re-election.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

When Sen. Wellstone arrived at the Secretary of State's office to file for a third Senate bid, the former college professor seemed surprised to find about 100 cheering supporters.

"Up until we saw you, I was thinking of not running, but now..." Wellstone said to the group's laughter.

Wellstone paid the $400 filing fee and signed the necessary paperwork. He faces a primary challenge from fellow DFLer Dick Franson. Before he filed, Wellstone held a news conference with Attorney General Mike Hatch, calling for new federal measures designed to prevent corporate scandals like those at Enron and Worldcom. Wellstone supports Senate Democrats' bill to prohibit businesses from doing both consulting and auditing work for their clients.

"We need to make sure that all of the companies that do the auditing -- the Arthur Andersons of this world and others -- are independent. And they are basically doing their audit; they're the watchdogs and they're doing their job the right way for all of the investors and for all of our families and all the consumers. Right now, you've got a blatant conflict of interest situation," he said.

Wellstone pointed out that he wrote a letter to former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt two years ago, supporting rules restricting accounting firms from collecting consulting fees from companies they audit.

Wellstone's Republican opponent, former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman, also supports tougher measures to prevent corporate wrongdoing. He says corporate CEOs who defraud shareholders and employees should be forced to return the money. He says the Senate bill focuses on auditing, and is just a start.

Minneapolis banker Jim Moore announced his candidacy for the Independence Party endorsement for U.S. Senate. Listen to his announcement.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

"I know there's a provision that allows you to get back at bad folks after there's a judicial finding, I would actually kind of strengthen that by saying, let's get back at folks who do bad things, if there's an administrative finding, let's kind of ease the process of getting the ill-gotten gains out of the hands of the wrongdoers," Coleman said.

Coleman accepted $2,500 in Arthur Anderson PAC campaign contributions, but later gave the money to a fund to help former Enron employees. He says if he receives any contributions from companies involved in accounting scandals, the money will go back.

Lily Goren, chair of the political science department at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, says Wellstone will try to use corporate accountability as a campaign issue by painting Coleman as a corporate insider.

"I think Wellstone's going to try it to use to his advantage in his portrayal of himself as an outsider, somebody who doesn't come from a corporate or law background, which, then again, puts him in contrast to Norm Coleman, who comes out of a law background and has had a lot of dealings with ... lots of corporate entities in terms of attracting corporate development into the St. Paul area," according to Goren.

Goren says Coleman will try to use his ties to the corporate community as an advantage that would help him work with business leaders.

With millions of dollars expected to be spent on the Coleman/Wellstone battle, another Senate candidate says the advantage for him is that he won't accept special interest money. Minneapolis banker Jim Moore is seeking the Independence Party endorsement for U.S. Senate at the party's convention this weekend. Moore says voters fed up with corporate scandals will turn to a candidate who rejects PAC money.

"Basically what moneyed-special interests are doing, you know, for both sides of the political spectrum, is they are taking away the voice of the individual, and in doing so, they do not allow them to have a meaningful participation in the process, they feel if they step up, they will be shouted down," Moore said.

Challenging Moore for the Independence Party endorsement is Alan Fine, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Managament who's also speaking out against corporate scandals.

Political scientist Lily Goren says candidates who reject special interest money could appeal to voters frustrated with the scandals. But she says it will be hard for any third party candidates to get a message out through the barrage of advertising for Coleman and Wellstone.