Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Day At The DFL... Schedule and First Impressions of Money in Politics

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, my day begins at 6 am. In true politico fashion my eyes are drawn first to the news. I check several sources for news and political hearsay. I get ready and eat breakfast at 7 am right as I gain consciousness and the St. Olaf Caf opens. My friend and I carpool to the Twin Cities for our internships and usually depart St. Olaf at 7:45 or so. It is a long day. I listen to conservative talk radio on the way to the Cities and argue with the hosts and callers. The very first day of my internship I heard about how the recent snow storms on the east coast were evidence against climate change. Despite the fact that climate is an accumulative history of weather events thus one storm does not sufficiently mount a challenge to an entire phenomenon and the exact reason for the scale of the snow storms were due to climate change in the first place. Anyway it provides motivation for the 9-5 grind at the DFL office.

My day begins with reading constituent mail and e-mail in order to pass notes and questions to the Senate office. Much of the constituent mail ranges from support to contempt. Many people have an honest question on policy or share wishes of support of Senator Franken and the Democratic agenda whilst others warn us and Sen. Franken about the radical Democratic agenda, etc. Reading and sorting these are essential for Sen. Franken to represent Minnesota, yet it seems that these views are not necessarily representative of public opinion in Minnesota. Not everyone writes a letter, thus it is not always a barometer of what Minnesotans are thinking yet to hear the opinions of Minnesota is important to conduct the business of representative governance. As an intern and representative of the DFL, I feel as though I am part of a larger and essential conversation with the people of Minnesota.

I also handle event calendars and write briefs on policy to keep the day busy and staffers informed. My day is based on a variety of these activities while I learn as much as I can from my supervisors and fellows.

I also handle contributions and manage the data. This is an intricate process and I will not go into much detail, yet it is astonishing the amount of contributions that come my way despite the fact that the 2010 campaigns are just beginning. Fundraising is a constant activity. In able to function PACs and campaigns fundraise 24 hours a day. It is often mused that a Congressman or Senator has to raise every day during every constituent visit in order to be re-elected. Now, political action committees contribute to several campaigns at once, it is still rather disconcerting how intertwined money is to one's chances of remaining in political office. Contemporary campaigns are expensive and committed supporters do see monetary contributions as a way to ensure victory even in a hard economy.

It is the current state of the political culture. More than half of a politician's efforts are to ensure fund continue to roll in. Is there more appropriate and essential things that can be done in this time? Sure. Yet until a change to our culture occurs (either public financing or further reform) interns, such as my self will be around collecting, planning, asking, mailing, and entering money for campaigns and causes.

Internship With The Democratic Farmer Labor Party Introduction

This blog taken on many forms- political commentary soap box, travelogue, reflections, and photo gallery. Now it is going to chronicle my academic internship with the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) and more specifically Al Franken for Senate and the Midwest Values PAC. I am receiving academic credit for working at the DFL Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays each week. I will be aiding the Finance staff in accounting and fundraising duties, while also participating in the Political Affairs department to plan events, write briefs for staffers, and maintain political connections. This internship will acquaint me with the actual business of politics, nothing too glamourous, yet it is the essential business of American politics. This blog will serve as an academic reflection on the practical business of political parties and a chronicle of my experience. It should be noted however that I cannot share every detail. My blog is not to be used as a representation of campaign practice, information, or policy. Despite the fact that only a few people follow the blog (I Thank You All) I do not want anything to be leaked to the press. So I apologize if you were expecting a revealing expose... this blog might get extremely boring or really captivating if you dig campaign finance or political affairs.

This internship is truly serendipitous not for the obvious professional reason of networking before I graduate in May, but in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court; to practically comprehend the business of campaign finance will be vital and illuminating. For those who are unaware, the Citizens United decision trampled on past precedents and will allow corporations to contribute unlimited funds to political campaigns. The decision is a travesty for the exact reason Justice John Paul Stevens mentioned in his dissent; the American people have lost the impact of their free speech through campaign contributions that will never match the contributions of corporations. If money equals speech, thus it is true through the Citizens United decision that corporations, wishing to influence political discourse, will be louder than the American people. Even though a few persons may cite that Democrats and Republicans are the beneficiaries of corporate donations and both liberal and conservative PACs play in the same game, it cannot be denied that campaign finance reform has been a major priority for American progressives and their conservative allies. Most notably is the unlikely pairing of John McCain (R-Arizona) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin). Their legislation, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act or McCain/Feingold Act was passed in 2002. It set the contribution limits utilized in contemporary politics and set to create a sense of fairness to how campaigns were funded and from whom. Obama For America and Howard Dean's campaign for President in 2004 utilized the internet to appeal for small donations from ordinary citizens in conjunction with the usual practice of bulk donations from PACs and activists. Republican candidate for President and libertarian icon, Ron Paul also executed a similar web strategy and raised a record amount.

Campaign finance reform has a bipartisan history. It is vital that Citizens United be challenged both through legislation, judiciary, and candidate practice. More reflections on this subject are on the way, once I have completed more reading. For a review of the Citizens United case go to