The Sponsored Candidate

If politicians were NASCAR drivers, whose logos would they plaster on their jumpsuits? For George W. Bush it'd be a toss-up: top funder Morgan Stanley's non-descript blue triangle has a monetary, but definitely not an aesthetic, edge over number-two contributor Merrill Lynch's iconic bull. For Sen. Norm Coleman, a big red target would be front and center (same for Mark Kennedy, who's received more than $70,000 from the retailer this election cycle). But would these embroidered patches really suggest a candidate's loyalties? In this series I look look into what can be gleaned from politicians' financial disclosures.

This investigation began with a post on contributions to CD5 candidate Mike Erlandson's campaign by defense industry PACs. While the amounts are relatively small--$4000 from PACs and individuals affliated with the corporate recipients of lucrative US military contracts--the implication isn't: Erlandson is campaigning as the man to end the war, which he's characterized as a "train wreck," saying he "opposed the Iraq war before the first shots were fired in 2003." Hard words coming from a candidate who accepted funds from Parson's Corporation, a firm whose government contract to build 150 health centers in Iraq was yanked when it was revealed most of its funds went to build only six facilities.

How does Erlandson justify these gifts? More to the point, if he has "The values to get it right,” as his website motto states, would he give back such funds?

I left a voicemail, left messages with staffers, and emailed questions to Erlandson's office, but haven't yet received a reply. So instead I asked Frank Sorauf, University of Minnsota professor emeritus who co-authored the defense of the McCain-Feingold Act in McConnell v. F.E.C..

"If I were in his position I would tell my campaign manager to send it back with a non-inflammatory note, but honest and forthright, saying in view of their record you don’t feel you can accept their contribution," he says. "That ought to be easy for a candidate to do."

It also might be smart to do; other candidates, including Erlandson's primary challenger, Keith Ellison, have vowed to refuse funds from defense-related sources.

More to come...

Image: Serifcan Özcan via Good Magazine.

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