- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Star Tribune, May 5

Maintain limits on campaign finance in Minnesota

Minnesota’s practice of democracy is far from perfect. But it affords average citizens a greater measure of political clout than they have in many other states. Two-thirds of donations to Minnesota legislative candidates in 2012 came in increments of $250 or less, a share second among the states only to Connecticut.

For that, credit is due an ingenious 40-year-old public campaign finance scheme that provides refunds for small donations to candidates for state offices and allows those candidates to voluntarily limit special-interest contributions and total spending in exchange for taxpayer-provided campaign cash.

That good arrangement is under assault in the Minnesota House this year. If the House GOP majority has its way, all that would remain of campaign finance reforms enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal would be limits on the size of donations from individuals and political action committees (PACs). Public financing of campaigns would end, and with it any incentive for voluntary limits on candidates’ spending. They would be free to accept an unlimited number of donations from PACs and lobbyists. Today’s limit on such donations - 20 percent of total campaign receipts - would disappear.

Also eliminated would be reimbursement for campaign donations of up to $50 for individuals and $100 for married couples. Those refunds take about $12 million from state coffers in each two-year election cycle; the campaign subsidies take a few million more.

Those changes would trigger an unwelcome sea change in state politics - just in time for a 2016 election with no statewide races on the ballot. Money that might typically be spent on U.S. Senate or gubernatorial races could flow instead to legislative campaigns.

To their credit, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and key DFL legislators announced Monday that they intend to block the proposed changes. Minnesotans who value civic participation should want the public campaign finance system not just defended, but also strengthened.

Caps on total spending and on donation amounts were belatedly increased in 2013 after years of neglect. They should regularly be adjusted for inflation, and refund limits should also be increased.

But the most-needed change in state campaign laws does not involve the campaigns candidates control. It’s closure of a loophole that allows independent organizations to make “educational” expenditures without naming the sources of their funds. A case in point arrived in some Minnesota mailboxes only last week. Current law requires no disclosure of who paid for fliers from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition that blasted DFLers for supporting higher gas taxes. That should change.

Stronger disclosure requirements have been repeatedly blocked at the Capitol by such groups as abortion opponents and the pro-gun lobby. But no one has been calling - out loud, anyway - for dismantling the public financing system. More than 90 percent of legislative candidates in 2014 participated in the voluntary program.

State Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said the impetus for ending the program comes from a GOP view that “we shouldn’t be using public tax dollars for politicians’ campaigns.” But the experiences of other states show that if public money is not used, special interest money will fill the void. We think those interests have quite enough influence already.


The Free Press of Mankato, May 6

Preparing for disasters foreseeable

The earthquake that devastated Nepal almost two weeks ago is a reminder that while natural disasters cannot be precisely predicted, they can be foreseen.

Nepal has had major earthquakes before. It will have them again. The real problem is less the seismic activity than the inability of that poor, landlocked nation to prepare for what it knows is coming on some unknown date.

Similarly, we know that major earthquakes will hit California, that massive hurricanes will blow through Florida and the Gulf Coast, that huge tornadoes will rip through Oklahoma and Kansas and, yes, Minnesota will get killer blizzards. Every place on the planet carries some sort of natural risk. The key is preparation.

Consider for a moment the New Madrid Fault, named for the city in southeastern Missouri near it. It generated, in late 1811 and early 1812, a series of earthquakes powerful enough to be felt in such distant cities as New York and Philadelphia and to reputedly briefly reverse the flow of the Mississippi River.

There wasn’t much in the quake zone then to damage. But today we have major metropolitan areas in the region. A quake there as powerful as the one that rocked Kathmandu last month might not turn St. Louis or Memphis to rubble, but it would certainly be damaging at the least.

This nation does not lack for resources, but it has at times been lax in preparing for disasters that lie in the unknown future. New Orleans’ levees were poorly designed and ill-maintained, and so the city was swamped by Hurricane Katrina. An estimated third of the damage wrought in Miami-Dade County by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 could have been avoided had building codes been properly enforced.

Americans are increasingly settling in areas vulnerable to wide-scale disasters. They need to be ready for those calamities when they arrive.


Minnesota Daily, May 6

Companies must not sway doctors

The potential for doctors to have financial conflicts of interest regarding investment in medical equipment has come into question as this information becomes publicly available, according to a recent Star Tribune report.

Doctors throughout the United States, including 75 in Minnesota, have been shown to be receiving compensation from investments they hold in health care companies. This could be an issue, since there is an obvious incentive to lean toward referring patients to utilize equipment they have a vested financial interest in.

This conflict recently came to light when new Open Payments data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began revealing these relationships.

Unfortunately, investment is not the only potential conflict. Established in part because of the Affordable Care Act, the program has uncovered various other kickbacks including free conference travel and other forms of gifts.

In Minnesota, this isn’t the first time this potential conflict has come into question. In 1992, a law was passed to outlaw doctors from using certain products for payment, but specifics of the law were never created.

We are troubled by these findings and urge Minnesota legislators and health care regulators to take a closer look at this issue. In the wake of the Dan Markingson case at the University of Minnesota, where some have alleged pharmaceutical company influence to have played a role in his suicide, it is clear that there are still bioethical issues to resolve as health care and business continue to synergize.

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