On the day President Bush signed into law new corporate accountability legislation, the issue is heating up Minnesota's political landscape. DFL Senator Paul Wellstone and GOP challenger Norm Coleman traded charges that each is accepting contributions -- directly or indirectly -- from firms under investigation for accounting irregularities. The finger-pointing comes as Coleman begins a two-day swing through northern Minnesota to promote his views on natural resource management.
The Wellstone camp opened the campaign finance fight by questioning contributions from five corporate political action committees to the former St. Paul Mayor-turned-GOP candidate. In total, they cite nearly $20,000 in contributions to the Coleman campaign from companies under investigation for their roles in the Enron accounting scandal, or from companies under investigation for irregularities of their own.
The Wellstone statement called on Coleman to stand by his previous comments and return such donations. But Coleman was quick to fire back. He says many of the same corporations are funneling dollars through the back door of national political committees -- all for Wellstone's benefit.
"Paul Wellstone is incredibly hypocritical on the issue of raising money. His campaign is being fueled today by almost $2 million of big oil, big pharmacy, big industry dollars. And he has the temerity to challenge anything that I'm doing," Coleman said.
The Wellstone camp, however, says Coleman has the facts -- and the law -- wrong. Minnesota law forbids corporate contributions to political campaigns and parties.
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says all fund transfers to the state party are carefully tracked and screened to ensure compliance. He says that includes corporate PAC money, too.
Wellstone spokesman Jim Farrell says Coleman's charges are an attempt to confuse the issue. "Norm Coleman is trying to change the subject from the fact that he takes an awful lot of corporate money from really bad corporations that are caught up in these accounting scandals that are making off with regular folks' retirement security, with their investments, with money for their kids to go to college," he said.
The charge and counter-charge come just as Coleman is kicking off a two-day swing through northern Minnesota to shop his views on land management. Coleman says Wellstone has too often taken an extreme position on environmental issues that has strangled economic development and recreational opportunities in national forests.
While he offered no specifics, Coleman says it's time to discuss expanded logging and greater snowmobile access in Minnesota.
"There are areas where you say we shouldn't do that. But you need to start with trying to find the balance between folks' livelihood, okay, and protecting the environment. And I think that has been lacking. And that's what I'll bring to the table," Coleman said.
Wellstone spokesman Farrell says Coleman's unnecessarily opening a contentious debate. He says existing restrictions already balance the need for economic development and environmental safeguards. Farrell also defends Wellstone's support of the outdoor industries, noting, for example, that Wellstone lobbied the Bush administration to take action against cheap foreign timber imports.
"He fights for fair trade as opposed to so-called 'free trade,' which Norm, by the way, is a big booster of, which permits dumping of subsidized, illegal Canadian timber in Minnesota and is really taking a toll on our jobs," he said.
In addition, Farrell cites Wellstone's successful opposition to a proposed extension of Mississippi's duck hunting season. Minnesota hunters feared the change would have had an adverse affect on Minnesota's duck population.More from MPR