The Sponsored Candidate, Part 2.

While Congressional candidate Mike Erlandson must weigh whether a few thousand dollars of income from military contractors is worth the risk of being perceived as less than resolute in his opposition to the Iraq War--an argument likely to be raised by his Republican challenger should he win Tuesday's primary--the real issue with campaign contributions is whether they actually influence a candidate's values or policy votes.

A comparison of Erlandson's defense donations to those of the man he hopes to replace, his old boss, Congressman Martin Sabo yields unexpected results. Sabo voted against the original authorization of force against Iraq and has since voted against measures that would declare Iraq a front on the "War on Terror" and that would signal approval, after the fact, of the removal of Saddam Hussein. He now calls for a withdrawal of troops from the country.

How does this antiwar stalwart, a man so beloved by Minnesotans that he's been elected to serve 18 years in the Minnesota Legislature and 28 in the US House, stand on campaign financing by defense industry representatives?

He's accepted it. Lots of it.

According to FEC filings, Sabo received $12,500 from MTS Systems' PAC (the Eden Prairie-based contractor that also funds Erlandson); $18,000 from the PAC at Alliant Techsystems (maker of "advanced weapons" including depleted uranium munitions, "smart bombs," and landmines); $9,500 from Boeing's PAC'; $9000 from Honeywell's; $14,500 from Raytheon; $26,000 from General Dynamics' PAC; $1,000 from Bechtel's PAC--nearly $250,000 from the defense industry alone.

Sabo didn't immediately respond to a call for this article, but Frank Sorauf, retired University of Minnesota author and political science professor, suggests that perhaps such figures by candidates can be misleading.

"Some of the contractors maybe have a very large civilian business," he says. "That's really not a war industry. That's a multipurpose industry. They're the kind of industry that's really interested in general access to members of Congress."

He adds that large companies have nuanced and multifaceted problems with which they need the good favor of government. He suggests that the pragmatic side of business--getting help with visa problems for a specialized scientist in the case of Honeywell, as a hypothetical--is more likely behind corporate contributions than any quid pro quo.

"Some PACs may take the stance that 'he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch,'" he adds.

Sabo's votes suggest that he wasn't influenced by his defense-related contributors. For Erlandson, who served as Sabo's chief of staff and State Chair of the Minnesota DFL but has never held an elected office, the issue is trickier. What's a candidate without a voting record to to do when his stated stances could be perceived as contradicting his FEC disclosures?

Senate candidate Mark Kennedy's recent accusation against DFLer Amy Klobuchar might offer a clue.

More to come...

See Part 1.

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