Voter Games

CP'S voter sign-up "scandal": Conspiracy? Friends having a laugh? What's the difference?

Kent Kaiser likewise has a long record as public advocate for conservative causes, and particularly those of the religious right. In 1998, the year before he went to work in the secretary of state's office, he was quoted in a Minnesota Daily article speaking out against the use of student fees to pay for gay/lesbian and "radical" student organizations. "We're interested in rolling back the liberal agenda," Kaiser told the paper on behalf of the Minnesota Family Council, "liberal" notions being those that "chip away at the promotion and preservation of traditional Judeo-Christian principles in our society." He also served a nine-month stint at the local right-wing think tank Center of the American Experiment, in which capacity he served as editorial director of a 1999 report called the Minnesota Policy Blueprint. The MPB called for a smaller and substantially changed state government along more market-defined and business-friendly lines, not unlike the transformation the Pawlenty administration has since launched.

Kaiser's résumé as a conservative advocate also includes a history with the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and David Strom that dates back to the pair's days as students at Carleton College in Northfield. More recently, Kaiser worked for the Taxpayers League for a period of a few months before joining the secretary of state's office in 1999. And current Minnesota campaign finance board records list Kaiser as the chair of the Taxpayers League's Victory Fund, its political expenditures PAC. (This PAC apparently made three campaign contributions in the 2002 election cycle: one to conservative businessman and gubernatorial candidate Brian Sullivan, one to the Republican Party of Minnesota, and one to--Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. Asked if he saw any conflict in overseeing PAC donations to his own boss, Kaiser replied, "I don't think so. We gave to a lot of different things, and that is a small amount of money. We spent much more on our advocacy for other individual candidates.")

David Strom maintains that it was his idea to make trouble for City Pages, and that he didn't take his own gesture very seriously. Even if this is so--and the apparent contradictions between Strom and Kaiser's stories and the e-mail record mean nothing--it remains the case that the object of Strom's "prank" was to get the secretary of state to fire a shot across City Pages' bow, which she did; and if we had heeded her warning, the result would have been to close down a voter-registration site, meager as its yield turned out to be. As one person asked me, is discouraging voter registration the proper role of the secretary of state?

Anti-tax agitator David Strom said his complaint amounted to "having a little fun at City Pages' expense"
Courtesy of the Star Tribune
Anti-tax agitator David Strom said his complaint amounted to "having a little fun at City Pages' expense"

No matter where the complaint against City Pages originated, the episode boiled down to two things: a dubious legal claim regarding voter registration by a conservative activist against a liberal newspaper, and the subsequent intervention of the secretary of state on behalf of this claim, even though her office had no jurisdiction over the federal statute in question.

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