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Northern Minnesota is known for its great fishing, so perhaps it's fitting that tracking 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan's position on a bill that deregulates the mining industry and fast tracks the permitting process for PolyMet is a bit like watching a fish flopping around on a dock: first he's against it, then he's for it and now he once again opposes it, this time promising to vote against the legislation if it "comes anywhere near close to becoming law."

Nolan made that assurance while addressing the audience at the Climate Change Forum held at the University of Minnesota, Duluth on Nov. 16, 2013.

We reported in September that Nolan stunned many by voting for National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, mining industry-backed legislation that he blasted both Democrat Jeff Anderson and Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack for supporting and promised never to vote for if elected to congress. Nolan's sudden reversal of his position that proposed mining projects must meet environmental rules as currently written in order to be permitted and subsequent vote to assist right-wing Republicans in their efforts to deregulate yet another industry was among the issues attendees wanted to discuss with their congressman. But getting answers to their concerns proved to be difficult and when pressed Nolan often contradicted himself. For example, he initially claimed HR 761 does not gut environmental protections (contrary to what he asserted on the campaign trail), but simply changes the "regulatory regime" just as they did in the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013  and went on to discuss how Cirrus Aviation benefits from that legislation.   But when later questioned if his flip flop on the issue is a sign that he's taking support from environmentalists for granted, Nolan finally acknowledged that HR 761 does indeed gut environmental protections, and made this promise:

I assure you if and when that legislation (HR 761) comes to anywhere near close to becoming law as I said then, I will not vote for anything that is going to degrade our environment and that's my position and it has always been my position and I'm sticking with it.
When asked to clarify Congressman Nolan's position on HR 761, Communications Director Steve Johnson replied "original statement still stands."

The reaction of the those who gathered in Bohannon Hall on that Saturday afternoon is perhaps best summed up by 32-year-old Jesse Peterson, who characterized Nolan's responses and actions with respect to HR 761 as "incredibly deceptive and reflecting a willingness to be phony."

Cross-posted from Iron Country Free Press

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Republican Stewart Mills III of Nisswa formally declared his candidacy for 8th district congress just last week, but came out strong Tuesday, releasing a third quarter fundraising report reflecting contributions nearly double the amount raised by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby. Mills raised $243,826 for his bid to unseat the incumbant, while Nolan posted receipts of just $129,472, falling short of his second quarter total of $134,764 despite a strong last minute push from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steve Israel and the DCCC just before the fundraising deadline of Sep. 30.  

Nolan received slightly more unitemized individual contributions, reporting $19,497 to  Mills' $19,198, but Mills trounced Nolan in itemized individual contributions, both in number of donors and in dollar amounts. Mills racked up contributions of $218,128 compared to just $48,075 for Nolan. Analysis of individual contributions reveals that Mills raised more money from inside the 8th district, while Nolan raised the bulk of his money from donors outside Minnesota. The breakdown is as follows:

8th District  
Mills - $93,178 from  60 individual donors      
Nolan - $11,350 from 18 individual donors  

Minnesota
Mills - $44,151 from  37 individual donors
Nolan - $13,525 from 17 individual donors

Outside Minnesota
Mills - $80,800 from 35 individual donors  
Nolan - $24,100 from 18 individual donors  

Nolan's largest individual donation this quarter came from Bridge Capital CEO John Baldwin of Hayden Lake, Idaho, who contributed the $5200 maximum allowable contribution for the election cycle. In Minnesota, Nolan's top individual contributors this quarter were Minneapolis lobbyist Jim Erickson, who donated an additional $3950 to max out his contribution to the campaign, and Tofte Management CEO Dennis Rysdal of Schroeder who contributed $2000.

Mills' report is remarkable in that his largest contributors from inside and outside the 8th district all donated the maximum allowable for the election cycle.  Out-of-district  donors are David Copham of Fort Myers, Fla.; Ruthann & Thomas Hall of Green Bay, Wis., Sandra Mills of Menasha, Wis.; Travis Mills of Vail, Colo.; Jeff Olcott of Wausau, Wis.; Guy & Karen Smith of Black Creek, Wis; Mark & Shannon Evenstad of Wayzata, Minn; and Robert Ulrich of Edina, Minn. Residents of the 8th district who donated the maximum allowable are Dennis Frandsen of North Branch, Arnold & Joann Johnson of Lake Shore, Heather Mills of Nisswa, and Marissa Mae & Stewart Mills Jr of Brainerd. Candidate Mills also contributed $5200, but under FEC rules is not bound by contribution limits

Donations from political committees/PACs separate the challenger from the incumbent, and here Nolan handily outraised Mills. Mills received contributions totaling only $6,500 from just two organizations, but Nolan raised $61,00 from 33 different political committees, with $26,900 of those donations coming from PACs affiliated with labor.  Mills' top contributor was the Cravaack for Congress Campaign Committee, which donated $4000, the maximum allowable contribution for an authorized  political committee.  Nolan's largest contributions this quarter came from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which donated $10,000,the maximum allowable for multicandidate PACs, and from the American Crystal Sugar Corporation, which donated an additional $5000 to max out its contribution to Nolan.

Mills reported no disbursements that appeared to be associated with fundraising, but Nolan's report reflected at least $13508.22 spent for fundraising - ACT Blue  $275.73 (service fees), Katie Connolly $9006.99 (consulting fees $7500, mileage $350.25, expenses $1156.74), Dottie Mavromatis $4225.50 (consulting fee $4000, expenses $225.50)

Both campaigns reported debts. Nolan for Congress disclosed obligations of $50,313 while Friends of Stewart Mills reported $14,608.

Rep. Nolan does have a slight edge over his challenger in cash on hand, reporting $261,00 to Mills' $234,443.

This is Stewart Mills' first quarter of fundraising, yet he raised just $174,631 less than Rep. Nolan raised this election cycle- to-date. The breakdown is as follows
 

Individual Contributions
Mills $243,826
Nolan $147,092

Political Committee Contributions
Mills $6500
Nolan $271,365

The 2012 8th district congressional race was one of the most expensive in the nation and attracted over $9 million in outside spending. Nolan never excelled at fundraising and raised significantly less than Tarryl Clark or Chip Cravaack, yet defeated his well-funded opponents in both the primary and general elections. It is too early to tell how the congressman's self-imposed limit on time spent fundraising will impact his bid for re-election. But outside groups are already targeting Nolan in radio and TV ads, so the 2014 race is sure to exceed $10 million in outside spending. And the NRCC is certainly impressed with Mills: he's number one on the list of 5 Republican House Candidates Who Are Outraising Democrat Members Of Congress.

Cross-Posted from Iron Country Free Press

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U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby now has a formal challenger in the 2014 race for 8th District Congress. Mills Fleet Farm Vice President Stewart Mills III of Nisswa made that announcement Thursday at events in Cloquet and Rush City.

Mills said the following in a prepared statement:
I have seen first-hand how overreaching government policies affect Minnesota families. I'm running for Congress because I want to roll up my sleeves and make sure that our government is working for us, not stifling our local job creators and the American dream.

The current government shutdown and impasse in Congress is the perfect example of why Washington needs fresh voices and perspectives to move our country forward. Our government needs to work harder to make sure that no matter what the disagreement, our social contracts are being met, like those to our seniors and veterans. This partisan squabbling is unacceptable.

Mills launched his formal bid to unseat the DFL incumbent at businesses near the Duluth and Twin Cities media that cover the sprawling 8th congressional district, but Friends of Stewart Mills campaign coordinator Isaac Shultz was quick to point out that Mills has recently been to Hoyt Lakes and other cities on the Range.

"Mills enjoyed his visits to the Iron Range and looks forward to going back up there soon," Schultz said, adding "he's excited about the opportunities that PolyMet and Twin Metals offer to Rangers and wants to be of assistance in any way he can."

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin released a statement Thursday blasting Mills as being out of touch with "Minnesotans" and "utterly unqualified to take on the job of U.S. Congressman":

In announcing he is running for Congress, Stewart Mills III lined up with the extreme Republicans who put thousands of Americans out of work with their senseless government shutdown. Mills III is another Tea Party extremist who would rather hold our nation’s economy hostage to promote a radical agenda rather than solve problems to grow the middle class.

You only get one time to make a first impression, and out of the gate Mills III demonstrated just how out of touch he is with Minnesotans. The last thing Washington needs is another hyper-partisan, uncompromising Tea Partier like Michele Bachmann or Ted Cruz who is long on rhetoric and short on substance. It’s obvious that he is utterly unqualified to take on the job of U.S. Congressman and that he represents exactly what this country is running away from.

Schultz had this to say in response to Martin's harsh statement:
Stewart Mills is focused on reaching out to voters and discussing the stunning failure of partisan leaders in Washington DC. Instead of reaching commonsense solutions that help grow our economy and reduce the burden of government on working families, Washington insiders are bickering over partisan ideologies.
In June, Mills' potential candidacy caught the eye of CQ Roll Call, which noted a "Brad Pitt kind of appeal" and we noted the Crow Wing county native could pose a serious challenge to Rep. Nolan. Mills' decision later that month to launch an exploratory campaign prompted a ratings change in the race, which The Rothenberg Political Report currently rates as a Lean Democrat.

The Nolan campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Mills' formal entry into the race.

Cross-posted from Iron Country Free Press

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Furloughed federal employees are suffering the loss of pay during the current government shutdown, a program that provides critical nutrition assistance to low-income women, infants and children is suspended, and recent opinion polls show Congress with a public approval rating significantly lower than Richard Nixon's just before he resigned the presidency in disgrace, so naturally both Republicans and Democrats see this as the perfect opportunity to break out their song-and-dance routines for the public, hoping to score big political points from the stalemate over implementation of the Affordable Care Act as they head into the midterm elections.  Joining House leaders center stage in this warped political theater are three members of the freshman class - a Blue Dog Democrat from Texas, a Tea Party Republican from New York, a Progressive Democrat from Minnesota - who recaptured seats for their respective parties in 2012.

Rep. Pete Gallego (TX-23), Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-8) and Rep. Chris Collins (NY-22) all defeated incumbents from the opposing party in races that attracted millions in outside spending, and all have sponsored legislation affecting pay for Members of Congress during a future government shutdown (the 27th Amendment prohibits changes in compensation from going into effect until the next Congress).  Nolan capitalized on public outrage by introducing his bill just as the government was preparing to shut down on Sept. 30 and launching a media blitz in concert with progressive groups such as Courage Campaign, whose executive chairman started the 'No Pay for Congress During The Shutdown' MoveOn.org petition on Oct. 1. Yet only the bill introduced by Collins on Sept. 20  affects Members' pay during the current shutdown, and Collins is the only sponsor to date who opted to have his pay voluntarily withheld until the stalemate is resolved.

The Government Shutdown Fairness Act (HR3160) introduced by Tea Party Republican Collins and the No Government No Pay Act of 2013 (HR 3224) introduced by Progressive Democrat Nolan are similar bills to withhold the pay of Members of Congress during a shutdown. The major difference is that Collins' bill contains a special rule for the current Congress that requires Members' salaries to be placed in escrow, the same provision contained in the No Budget No Pay Act of 2013 that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last February.  

Blue Dog Democrat Gallego's Shutdown Pay For Congress Act of 2013 (HR 3215) introduced on Sept. 28 suspends pay for Members of Congress during a shutdown and amends the definition of 'non-essential' employees to include Members of Congress. While this bill does not contain a special rule applying to the current Congress, it does exactly what the public wants: it gives Members of Congress a taste of their own medicine by treating them exactly the same way federal 'non essential' employees are treated during a government shutdown. Not surprisingly, this bill has been decidedly unpopular with Members of Congress.

All three bills are currently stalled in committee with no hearings scheduled.

The freshmen have taken different approaches to their pay during the current shutdown as well. Rep. Collins was among the first in Congress to request that his pay be withheld for the duration of the current shutdown; and Rep. Gallego opted to continue receiving a paycheck but was one of the first to state that he will donate his salary to 'an organization that helps military men and women who have been injured' and encouraged colleagues to follow suit.  Rep Nolan stated only that he will donate a 'considerable portion' of his salary to 'Minnesota charities.'   

Collins, Gallego and Nolan correctly surmised that public anger over the government shutdown offers a rare opportunity to attract national attention and create buzz in their home districts. Collins, a Tea Partier who needs to appear more moderate in order to dodge the public backlash from the shutdown,  Gallego, a Blue Dog in a true swing district and Nolan, a Progressive who recently alienated a substantial part of his base by voting for forestry and mining industry bills that gut environmental protections, all stand to benefit from latching on to an issue so extremely popular with the public.  But campaign contributions rather than votes may well be the Holy Grail the three are seeking as they build war chests for the next election. Nolan in particular would benefit from a large infusion of outside cash because he refuses to spend 30 hours per week "dialing for dollars" and struggles with fundraising as a result.  

National exposure is the key to securing outside contributions. Gallego and Collins have the edge in mainstream media coverage, and both Collins and Nolan have a substantial presence in non-traditional media. But Nolan has been the most successful at generating publicity and securing public support from allies coast-to-coast via social media, making good use of a ready-made action network at his disposal because of his advocacy for campaign finance reform, which includes introducing the 'We The People' amendment language developed and promoted by Move to Amend.  Nolan's brilliant communications strategy of introducing his bill just as the government was shutting down and then immediately launching an aggressive public relations campaign designed to harness public outrage and position the Northeastern Minnesota congressman as the architect and leader of the 'no work no pay' movement paid off by attracting thousands of new fans from outside the 8th District.  Nolan is now widely perceived as championing the public outcry against pay for Members of Congress during a government shutdown although it is Gallego's bill that treats Members like other federal employees during a shutdown and Collins' bill that actually addresses pay for Members during the current crisis. From the bill title to the sponsored Facebook meme, Nolan's expertly crafted public relations campaign has been wildly successful in enhancing the Nolan brand with progressives and no doubt endearing him to Democratic leadership as well. It does not however, translate into passing his bill.

While Nolan's bill enjoys a bandwagon effect in social media, Collins' legislation is building momentum among Members. On Sept. 30, Nolan had five cosponsors, Collins had 17, Gallego had one. As of Oct. 8, support breaks along party lines with 13 Democrats lining up behind Nolan, three behind Gallego and 44 Republicans backing Collins.

Clearly, Collins and Nolan are heavily invested in generating publicity for their respective positions, but what they choose to sell may tell the real story. Collins is making hay with his voluntary request to have his pay withheld and largely relegating his bill to a secondary position, whereas Nolan is peddling his bill like free beer on the Iron Range yet barely mentions -and is rather vague about- his salary. Standing in stark contrast to the others is Gallego, who employs a straightforward and comparatively low-key approach to addressing both issues that suggests that perhaps this is one congressman whose primary motive is doing the right thing rather than shameless self-promotion. And you just have to admire a Member of Congress who is willing to have himself declared 'non essential.'

House leaders understand that perception is reality, and both Republicans and Democrats will continue to perform their song and dance routines for as long as the public allows. Hyping 'no work no pay' legislation doesn't change the fact that all three bills are languishing in committee and mired in 2014 election politics. In 2012, Collins defeated Democrat incumbent Kathy Hochul by only a narrow margin in a decidedly Republican district, and both Gallego and Nolan defeated incumbent Republicans who had unseated incumbent Democrats in the Tea Party wave of 2010.  The Rothenberg Political Report currently rates NY27 as Safe Republican, TX23 as Toss-up/Tilt Democrat and MN8 as Lean Democrat. With the control of the House at stake, Republican Leadership most certainly will not allow either of the Democrat bills to advance, and even the future of the Republican bill is unclear.

But it'll sure look great on the campaign literature back home.

Cross Posted from Iron Country Free Press

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Mining is a part of the culture on Minnesota's Iron Range, and this issue more than any other defined the candidates in the 2012 race for 8th district Congress. Candidate Rick Nolan's position put the Cuyuna Range native on the correct side of the worker v mining company nuance that made him a true ally of Rangers:  strongly support mining, but enforce the rules and regulations that protect our environment and the health and safety of our workers. Unfortunately, Congressman Rick Nolan appears to have abandoned this common sense approach in favor of a Company Man position, voting for the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, legislation he previously vowed he would not support because it expedites the permitting process at the expense of our workers, communities and our environment.

The current legislation, HR 761, is a reincarnation of HR 4402 passed by the US House of Representatives in 2012.  DFLer Jeff Anderson, Nolan's opponent in the primary, and Republican 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack both strongly supported HR 4402 and criticized Nolan for refusing to do so. In fact, the harshest criticism came from Anderson (now Nolan's district director), who deliberately and methodically mischaracterized Nolan as being anti-mining.  But candidate Nolan was adamant that one did not need to compromise safety rules and regulations in order to expedite the permitting process and repeatedly blasted both for supporting the legislation that was being pushed by Right Wing Republicans at the behest of the mining companies. This video clip from July 2012 is a perfect example:

....HR 4402 that was passed by the House of Representatives here recently ostensibly to expedite the process, and to the extent that it does that I would quite frankly have no problem with that legislation. But careful observers and journals all around the country and around the Congress say that the bill does more than that. I don't know if Jeff (Anderson) just read the Republican press releases or if he's actually read the bill. The fact is that the bill guts many environmental health and safety provisions for workers, for the community, for the environment. It guts provisions requiring mining companies to pay royalties and to forego many of the rules and regulations.... Democrats and Republicans both support mining. The primary difference is the fact that Democrats insist on rules and regulations to protect the health and safety of workers, to protect the health and safety of our communities, the health and safety of our water and natural resources and our heritage. Make no mistake about it - mining is very, very important for our region, but so are the pensions of the workers and the health and safety of the people who work in those mines and the footprint that will be left behind. That is every bit as important. Mining has a time-certain limitation on it. The long range consequences are something that will be with us not simply for a lifetime.  They will be with us here forever. So don't underestimate under any circumstances the importance of stepping up and making sure that we insist on these kind of protections for the people here now today and for future generations
Yet on 18 September 2013, Congressman Nolan voted in favor of HR 761 (legislation that contains language identical to that of HR 4402), a move that stunned many observers, supporters and constituents. And Nolan told the Mesabi Daily News that he's comfortable with the legislation and continues to insist we don't need to sacrifice safety in order to expedite permitting:
But Nolan said he believes we can have both expedited permitting and environmental safety.

“I’m pro-mining. But I also very strongly believe we have to do it right. And we can. We have the brains and the technology to do so,” Nolan said.

So, is the congressman going to hold his nose and vote yes on the bill?

“No, I’m comfortable voting for it. It’s not the bill I would write, but they’re not asking me. But it’s a start in streamlining and standardizing the permit process,” Nolan said.

Wow.

When questioned about the change in his position, the Duluth News-Tribune reports

Nolan’s office said the difference this year is a “deeper appreciation on Congressman Nolan’s part for how the delayed and broken permitting process is holding back projects” on Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Huh?

Does that mean that candidate Rick Nolan didn't understand the issue or truly support mining as alleged by his former primary opponent and current district director Jeff Anderson?

Does it mean 'screw our workers, screw our communities, screw our environment - mining projects come first at all costs?'

Or does it mean that staffers have convinced Nolan to compromise his beliefs and take the easy road to favorable headlines in order to boost his support on the Iron Range as he heads into an election year?

Nolan's press release does nothing to clarify his position and offers little more than Orwellian doublespeak:

Even though this is not the bill I would have written, I voted YES on H.R. 761 because we need to streamline and standardize a broken mining permitting process that is delaying projects with the potential for thousands of good paying jobs, and billions of dollars in economic development, across Minnesota’s Iron Range. We are long past the time when we need to choose between good jobs and a healthy environment in our great nation. I will continue to do everything within my power to advance good paying mining jobs, and work for strong environmental protections in all the laws and policies that affect the mining industry.

What we do know is that Congressman Nolan firmly believed that provisions in last year's bill were harmful to workers, harmful to the environment and harmful to communities, and that gutting rules and regulations was not necessary to expedite the permitting process. We know that he clearly stated he would not support that bill.  And we know he inexplicably reversed his position and chose to vote for a bill introduced this year that contained identical language.

Going back on one's word and throwing our workers, environment and communities under the bus in order to further the interests of the mining companies is a questionable strategy at best, and definitely not what one would expect from a candidate who campaigned on a theme of integrity and changing the way we do politics 'Because you matter'.

Congressman Nolan certainly got the headlines he wanted, but at what cost?

Cross-posted from Iron Country Free Press

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It has been said that the true test of one’s character is what one does when no one else is looking, and the same test can be applied to discern how committed a candidate is to the principles of organized labor. Indeed, a good way for organized labor to identify parlor friends and street friends is to examine how labor-endorsed candidates choose to spend the thousands of dollars they receive from labor unions after walking out of the union hall. A true trade unionist believes in justice for workers and the right to bargain collectively, and will adhere to those principles during the course of their campaign by treating workers fairly and by supporting those businesses that employ union workers. To be sure, workers are injured every time candidates choose to pass over a union facility in favor of one with no union contract or one that was built with scab labor.   FEC reports that are exposed to the light of day will often show exactly who chose to throw labor under the bus the minute they thought no one was looking.

Previously, we reported that Democrat Jeff Anderson paid himself a sizable reimbursement on 31 December 2012 while his former staffers were still awaiting their final paychecks from August. Today, we examine how Anderson's campaign spent the union contributions he received for his primary campaign.

Jeff Anderson for Minnesota reported spending $5034 on lodging, meals, events and food for volunteers during the course of the 15-month campaign for 8th district congress. Only $203 was spent at union facilities.

Reports filed with the FEC show that the campaign made nine expenditures for lodging in 2011 totaling $1278.  Two expenditures were made in Brainerd where there are no union hotels, but the remaining seven were made in Duluth and Washington, DC where union hotels are readily available. Only two of those expenditures were made to a union hotel.

Radisson, Duluth, Lodging, 7/19/11, $69    
Brainerd Hotel, Brainerd, Lodging, 7/20/11, $109    
Brainerd Hotel, Brainerd, Lodging, 7/20/11, $109    
Sheraton Hotel, Duluth, Lodging, 7/21/11, $234    
Radisson, Duluth, Lodging, 7/25/11,$134  
Renaissance Downtown,Washington DC, Lodging,10/04/11, $263  
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Lodging, 10/24/11, $158  
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Lodging, 11/13/11, $135  
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Lodging, 12/13/11, $67  
There was just one reported expenditure for food in 2011, and that was for a meal at a non union hotel in Washington DC
Renaissance Downtown,Washington DC, Meals,10/03/11,$23  
In 2012, FEC reports reveal the campaign spent $3733 on lodging, meals, fundraisers and food for volunteers. Not one payment to a union hotel, restaurant or bar is reflected during this time period.

The campaign spent $963 for lodging, but there are no documented expenditures to union hotels. Of the four expenditures for lodging, two were at non union hotels in Duluth and two cannot be determined by the information in the report.

Priceline, Lodging, 1/04/12, $155      
Priceline, Lodging, 3/21/12, $377
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Lodging, 5/02/12, $203
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Lodging, 7/02/12, $228  
The campaign reported no expenditures for meals prior to April. Between April and August, there were 23 reported expenditures for meals totaling $474. $359 was spent at restaurants in Duluth, the remainder at gas stations. Not one cent was spent at a union hotel, restaurant or bar.
Blackwater, Duluth, Meals, 4/30/12, $30
Blackwater, Duluth, Meals, 4/30/12, $74
Pizza Luce, Duluth, Meals, 5/04/12, $26
Green Mill, Duluth, Meals, 5/07/12, $27
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Meals, 5/21/12, $40  
Pizza Luce, Duluth, Meals, 5/21/12, $32
Blackwater, Duluth, Meals, 5/25/12, $32
Fitger's Inn, Duluth, Meals, 6/04/12, $68  
Green Mill, Duluth, Meals, 6/22/12, $30
The campaign reported expenditures for fundraisers/events and for food for volunteers totaling $2296. Once again, not one cent was spent at a union hotel, restaurant or bar.
Sheraton, Duluth, Fundraiser, 3/05/12, $437    
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, Duluth, Fundraiser, 3/19/12, $208
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, Duluth, Fundraiser, 4/02/12, $47
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, Duluth, Fundraiser, 4/02/12, $257
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, Duluth, Fundraiser, 5/07/12, $212
Blackwater, Duluth, Fundraiser, 5/09/12, $72
Pizza Luce, Duluth, Event, 5/16/12, $286
The Chocolate Moose, Ely, Fundraiser, 5/16/12, $113
Pizza Luce, Duluth, Fundraiser, 7/01/12, $422
Sawmill Saloon, Virginia, Food for  Volunteers, 8/13/12, $105
Pizza Luce, Duluth,  Food for Volunteers, 8/17/12, $137
Labor-endorsed candidates should want to patronize union facilities as a matter of conscience. Yet Jeff Anderson's FEC report shows just two documented expenditures at union facilities during his entire campaign for congress. What a slap in the face to the unions and members who contributed their hard-earned money to Anderson's Duluth-based campaign! Is this what organized labor wants to see on the FEC reports of a labor endorsed candidate?

Tomorrow, Part 5 - Friends of Tarryl Clark 2012

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“An injury to one is an injury to all”

This mantra of organized labor takes on added importance today as unions are under ever increasing attacks from right-wing extremists like the Koch Brothers who are fighting to roll back over 75 years of labor law. And it’s not just taking away the right to bargain collectively that damages labor; workers are injured every time we choose to pass over a union facility in favor of one with no union contract or one that was built with scab labor.

Candidates and staff spend a great deal of time on the road while campaigning in Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, which spans from the Canadian Border to the fringes of the Twin Cites Metropolitan Area. Expenses for lodging and meals while traveling, and for events like fundraisers and meetings typically account for a sizable chunk of a campaign’s operating expenditures. As union membership has dwindled over the past decade, the number of union hotels, bars and restaurants has significantly decreased in northern Minnesota as well. Thus it is imperative for the health of the labor movement that we support those businesses that have negotiated union contracts with their employees, and we should expect no less from our labor-endorsed candidates. Any candidate who refuses to spend union contributions at union facilities is no street friend of organized labor no matter what they say in the union hall.

As in Part 2, a review of 2012 year-end FEC reports filed by all four of the labor-endorsed candidates for 8th district congress yielded some surprises. Only one, Rick Nolan, stayed exclusively at union hotels while traveling the northern part of the district, and his report also reflects several expenditures at union facilities for meals, fundraisers and meeting space. Republican Chip Cravaack stayed primarily at non-union facilities (including one built with scab labor) yet patronized union facilities for lodging and fundraisers more often than Democrat Jeff Anderson. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Anderson’s expenses for food and lodging were incurred in union-friendly Duluth, his FEC report reflects just two stays at union hotels, and no expenditures at union facilities for meals or fundraisers. Tarryl Clark’s FEC report reflects no itemized expenditures for lodging, meals or fundraisers, so it is impossible to discern exactly where she spent her money.

Detailed analysis of campaign expenditures begins tomorrow with Jeff Anderson for Minnesota.

Cross posted from Iron Country Free Press

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The annual White House Easter Egg Hunt typically provides a respite from politics and thus is eagerly anticipated by adults as well as children. But today the joyous celebration was briefly disrupted by members of the Tea Party who were convinced the eggs posed a threat to the future security of this country.

Shortly before the hunt was scheduled to begin Monday morning,  Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN6) held a press conference in front of the White House to praise President Obama for finally taking a proactive stance against terrorism.

"First, I want to personally thank President Obama for calling today's hunt.  
For years. I've tried to persuade this Administration to aggressively track down and eliminate those who seek to do this country harm. I'm so relieved the threat posed by these covert foreign agents is finally being taken seriously by the White House," said Bachmann

Even members of the press corps accustomed to her ramblings were taken off guard. Reporters exchanged confused glances in stunned silence until someone from the Congresswoman's home state finally asked "Uh, are you referring to the Easter eggs?"

"Those are terror babies!" shot back Bachmann as she swept her arm toward the brightly colored eggs littering the South Lawn. "You know, they start out little like this and then they hatch and before you know it, they've turned our children against us. Those fluffy ducklings and chicks, they're so cute and the kids follow them everywhere and think 'Wow! They're really neat, I want to be just like them.' Then pretty soon terrorists have infiltrated every lake, creek and river in the country, not to mention the parks and farmland. Their mission is to control our waterways and destroy our agriculture industry."

"We'll all starve to death unless we eliminate this threat!" Bachmann declared as a black SUV sporting 'Live Free or Die' license plates and packed with Tea Partiers screeched to a halt in front of her.

"Did someone say hunt?" eagerly panted former Minnesota Congressman Chip Cravaack as he leaped from the vehicle brandishing his AR-15's. "You betcha," hollered back Sarah Palin as they charged ahead to attack the unsuspecting Easter eggs."Cmon Chip, you shoot 'em and I'll field dress 'em!"

While startled reporters and onlookers ducked for cover, Bachmann continued unfazed. "My favorite gun is an AR-15 because you can be so accurate with it," she observed with smiling admiration as bits of eggs and colored shells flew in every direction across the South Lawn before the Tea Partiers were tackled by stunned secret service agents.

"You can't prepare for this kind of crazy" declared President Obama, defending his security team, "I mean, terror babies... shooting Easter eggs... just what the hell is in that tea they're drinking?

Children who watched the scene were disgusted as well. "If they didn't know how to make egg salad, they should have just asked for help," firmly declared a 4-year-old boy while brushing pieces of egg off his shirt.

Cross Posted from Iron Country Free Press

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For decades, workers who mined iron ore in northeastern Minnesota suffered numerous injustices at the hands of the mining companies that formed the omnipotent Steel Trust. It was only through the political process that these early iron miners were ultimately successful in their fight for worker's rights, finally signing a contract with the United Steelworkers in 1943, and no where is the sense of justice for workers today stronger than on the Iron Range. Indeed, former Governor Rudy Perpich (a native of the Mesabi Range) went ballistic when initially denied a pension of around $80 per month he earned at a job decades earlier, and was ridiculed and criticized by many in the Twin Cities for fighting the employer for what was for him a very nominal sum. What they couldn't seem to understand is that for Rangers, it's not the money, it's the principle: you earned it, you're entitled to it. No exceptions. This basic concept is so deeply ingrained in the political culture of the Iron Range that breaking from it seems unconscionable.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for campaigns to end with debts owed to employees for wages earned or for expenses incurred.  Sometimes these workers eventually get paid, but other times they are left out in the cold, much like steelworkers who lost their pensions after the bankruptcy of National Steel. A true trade unionist believes in justice for workers, and will adhere to that principle whether employing people in business or for a political campaign. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that a candidate receiving endorsement from organized labor would make paying their workers a priority.  And if you think only a Republican would dare violate this covenant with workers, think again. As AFL-CIO President Trumka astutely pointed out months ago, labor's parlor friends are all too often found within the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Jeff Anderson for Minnesota is the only campaign to report outstanding debts to employees for wages (ranging from $625 to $3000) totaling $6,625, with the remaining $24,153 debt owed for vendor payments/candidate loans. The circumstances surrounding these on-going obligations to former employees is indeed troubling to see from a labor endorsed democrat, particularly one who is a native of the Vermilion Range. These staffers (who include a college student and a single parent) have been waiting since August for their final paychecks.  Anderson held a fundraiser to pay off his campaign debt in late December, receiving $1000 from the Northeast Area Labor Council and $2000 from the Boilermakers. Inexplicably, he didn't use this money to pay his workers. Instead, on 31 December Anderson paid himself $1120 for 'reimbursement', leaving a remaining balance in his campaign coffers of $5,979 and his workers wondering exactly when they are going to get paid.

Friends of Tarryl Clark 2012 reports outstanding debts to vendors of $24,135.50. Clark's FEC report reflects absolutely no payments or monies owed to her for reimbursement for expenses during the course of the campaign.

Cravaack for Congress has no outstanding debt, and Cravaack's FEC report shows he finally paid his legal bills - with interest - as ordered by the mediator in the dispute.

Nolan for Congress closed out the year with outstanding debts of $53411.88 owed primarily to vendors, with some expense reimbursement due individuals and win bonuses owed to staffers. But in this case, the candidate (who is a native of the Cuyuna Range) is sharing the pain; the campaign also owes Nolan a sizable sum for reimbursement of campaign expenses.

Organized labor is the first to protest when a business shuts its doors and leaves workers holding the bag while executives escape unscathed. Decency demands there be no less of an outcry when a labor-endorsed candidate chooses to use union contributions to reimburse himself before paying his former employees wages that are rightfully due them. Labor needs to demonstrate that treating workers fairly applies to all or risk looking like hypocrites when protesting the next round of executive golden parachutes.

Cross posted from Iron Country Free Press

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Iron Rangers learn early in life the importance of differentiating between friends who will happily accept your hospitality as long it suits their purposes and friends who will loyally back you to the death in a street fight. Faced with an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights that threatens the very lifeblood of the union movement, the ability to bargain collectively, the labor movement too has come to realize the biggest mistake unions can make is to confuse parlor friends with street friends, a point AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka drove home in 2011 when he declared that organized labor would no longer tolerate fair weather friends and that a candidate’s affiliation with the Democratic Party no longer guaranteed endorsement.

Every election cycle candidates flood into local union halls at screening time, each professing to be the true champion of working people in the race. The recent campaign for 8th district congress was no exception, and all 4 candidates – Jeff Anderson (D), Tarryl Clark (D), Chip Cravaack (R), Rick Nolan (D) – received endorsements and hefty contributions from labor unions. It has been said that the true test of one’s character is what one does when no one else is looking, and the same test can be applied to discern how committed these individuals are to the principles of organized labor.

Indeed, a good way for organized labor to differentiate parlor friends from street friends is to examine how candidates choose to spend the thousands of dollars they receive from labor unions after walking out of the union hall. FEC reports that are exposed to the light of day will often show exactly who chose to throw labor under the bus the minute they thought no one was looking. Labor-endorsed candidates who regularly patronize hotels that have been targets of labor disputes or built with non union labor are clearly fair weather friends rather than true champions, as are those who pay themselves before paying their employees long overdue and hard-earned wages. Posts in the coming days will reveal the Good, the Bad and the Ugly among labor-endorsed candidates, republican and democrat alike, in the 2012 race for 8th district congress.

Broader issues surrounding labor-endorsed candidates and union contributions merit discussion in future posts. Do unions have expectations as to how their members’ money is spent by candidates? Are unions comfortable that their endorsed candidates spend union contributions at Wal-Mart or Office Max rather than at local stores or more worker-friendly national chains? Should candidates be held accountable for how they spend union dollars?

Cross-posted at Iron Country Free Press

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"This is a major committee assignment – vital to generating good jobs and economic development here in the 8th Congressional District."  Congressman-elect Rick Nolan

The premise of the common good -  that government exists to help people, and that elected officials and citizens alike are morally obligated to work for the betterment of the greater community - is the tie that binds Minnesota's Iron Range together. It demands that citizens not only hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions, but support them in their efforts  regardless of political affiliation.  Yet the region's largest newspaper violated this covenant Thursday, using what should have been celebrated as great news for Rangers - Congressman-elect Rick Nolan's appointment to the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - as an excuse to take cheap shots at the newly elected 8th district congressman a week before he is even sworn into office.

In a prepared statement, Nolan outlined the importance of his committee assignment to northern Minnesota:

This committee assignment means we can move forward on Day One with efforts to secure federal support for the Northern Lights Express high speed rail project, fund Essential Air Service for our regional airports, repair and rebuild our network of Northern Minnesota roads and bridges, build capacity and traffic through the Port of Duluth, modernize the electrical grid system and make high speed broadband communications available to everyone, regardless of location.
But instead of discussing the potential benefits for the Iron Range of Nolan sitting on this key committee, Republican Bill Hanna of the Mesabi Daily News embarks on a nonsensical effort to discredit Nolan, criticizing him for not identifying financing mechanisms and suggesting that one serving in the minority cannot possibly be an effective representative for the region. Hanna's sour grapes whine born of ignorance further deteriorates into this petty rant:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also did not refer to the deficit or the Democrats’ minority status in her comments in a Nolan news release, which labeled her “House Leader” not “House Minority Leader.
Seriously?

Perhaps if Packsacker Hanna practiced real journalism instead of  hatchet jobs masquerading as journalism he would know that the simple title 'House Leader' is common practice,  and that press releases announcing committee assignments typically do not contain detailed legislative analysis.

Furthermore, any astute political observer understands that it is not majority or minority status that measures effectiveness of a congressman. It's what one does with it that counts. Hanna's packsacker buddy, one term 8th district Congressman Chip Cravaack, squandered his majority status to represent the Tea Party instead of his constituents, co-sponsoring legislation to end the Essential Air Services program (which would have resulted in the loss of passenger air service at Range Regional Airport)  and opposing critical infrastructure projects such as the Northern Lights Express. In contrast,  Nolan campaigned on making projects critical to the 8th district a priority, and proposed funding them by ending tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating expensive and unnecessary wars of choice. During his previous service in the Congress, Nolan demonstrated an ability to build coalitions with Republicans and was an effective advocate for his constituents. 8th District voters elected him in November because they believe Nolan will represent them well even while in the minority, and at this time there is absolutely no reason to think otherwise.

Unlike Packsackers Cravaack and Hanna, Cuyuna Range native Nolan clearly understands the common good. If Nolan fails to deliver on his promise to work for the betterment of northern Minnesota, then residents are morally obligated to hold him accountable for his actions. Until then, the common good demands that the newly elected 8th district congressman have unqualified support from the community. Even packsacker republican newspaper editors.

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'At least 27 shot to death, many of them children.'

Americans were jolted out of their holiday cheer Friday with the news that an elementary school in Connecticut was the latest scene of mass murder. Early reports suggest that over 100 rounds were fired, and 2 semi automatic assault weapons (a Glock and a Sig Sauer) were recovered from the scene.

The shooter was not intending to hunt animals with those guns, folks.

Assault weapons were designed to kill Billy and Susie, not Bambi and Thumper. So why are we always shocked when they are used to do just that?

The zealots at the National Rifle Association will soon launch into their defense of these semi automatic weapons: 'Guns don't kill people, people do' and insist 'It's our constitutional right."

Malarky.

The 2nd amendment argument employed by these Rambo wannabes is a perversion of our Constitution. Think about it. Loading and firing a gun was a fairly lengthy process in the 1700s. Could our Founding Fathers have even imagined magazines and guns capable of killing many with a simple press of the trigger? Did they really intend for every citizen to possess such a weapon?

Doubtful.

We love our guns in northern Minnesota, to be sure. Hunting wild game is a part of our culture, and for some, necessary to put food on the table. But no one, repeat no one, needs a semi-automatic gun to shoot a duck, a deer or a rabbit. Assault weapons  were designed for one purpose and one purpose only - to kill people. That people sometimes choose to use semi-automatic assault weapons for their designated purpose should come as no surprise.

We need to either accept today's horrific scene of many children dead as collateral damage for permissive gun control laws or stop allowing every Tom, Dick and Mary from owning or possessing weapons capable of mass execution.

Cross posted from Iron Country Free Press

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