If the St Paul Charter Commission votes to place Ranked Voting on the ballot in November, St Paul is poised to be a significant battlefront in the protection of public pension programs. With Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature, we are prepared for a sea change in the general opposition to Ranked Voting by the GOP. After last week’s action on the Preemption Bill by the House, Republicans are attempting to carve out pieces of the city’s Home Rule authority on matters of minimum wage and work rules. One of the principal FairVoteMN funders, the Arnold Foundation, has also funded activities to change pension programs in other states.
We have been interested in the contributors and the expenditures of FairVoteMN since its inception here in Minnesota, but because the organization is a 501 (C) (3), and has an “educational” arm 501 (C) (4) they have been able to hide their resources and financial involvements in political activities. Recently, C&B Publisher Shawn Towle has been questioning the sources of their support and compared FairVoteMN to groups like those supported by the Koch Brothers, and thanks to the successful anti-Ranked Voting campaign in the Zenith City we now may be cracking the lid on the funding mechanisms. We are learning now the tie to the Koch Brothers is not far from the mark, it is not Charles and David H Koch, but Laura and John Arnold.
Now, in order to provide full disclosure, Towle has weighed in against Ranked Voting as the Executive Director of St Paul Votes Smarter, a rump group calling for a redux of the “tainted” 2009 referendum, which passed by a bare majority, 472 votes, supported by the Better Ballots campaign then run by current Council Member Jane Prince (DFL) and former Council Member Jay Benanav (DFL). The Better Ballots campaign received the largest fine in state history for distributing 40,000 literature pieces with false endorsements by newly elected President Barack Obama (D), US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Ralph Nader (GR), the League of Women Voters, and the DFL Party. The three-judge panel declined to overturn the election result because 472 people did not appear and claimed to have been wronged.
In 2015, FairVoteMN spent $170,000 on the Duluth Referendum for Ranked Voting and lost 75% to 25%. Questions about FairVoteMN’s funding resulted in some disclosure and between 2014-16 the Arnold Foundation contributed between $500,000 and $999,999 to FairVoteMN as per information from the Arnold Foundation site.
This may seem innocuous enough because the Arnold Foundation claims to support scientifically based political initiatives, but the question is, do they really. If you have seen the seen the Oscar-winning documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room, the story of Enron manipulating the California electrical grid, and playing Monopoly with the energy market, you can see John Arnold’s style. Arnold has made his money as a natural gas trader. He was once named as the “second-youngest self-made billionaire in America,” following Mark Zuckerberg, by CNN/Money, but this was later shown not to be true.
In 2013, the Arnold Foundation and the Action Now Initiative were housed at the same address. Action Now has been involved in a campaign to highlight the “unfunded liabilities” in public pensions in California and Rhode Island. Under calls for reform, which is a euphemism for realigning the system, making lower payments to pensioners, schemes to rebuild the funds, and making public pension funds available to hedge funds. Articles in Rolling Stone and Salon.
This seems like a calculated campaign. CaliforniaWatch notes the Arnold Foundation’s support for right-wing organizations like the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. The involvement of a non-profit in California pensions may not be as strange as it may seem at first blush because remember Enron was a Texas-based company that manipulated the California energy sector, so this may just be a page out of the same old playbook. We wonder what someone like Rep Pat Garofalo (R-58B, Farmington) would do with this type of information.
Currently, ranked voting tabulation machinery is in place in both Minneapolis and Ramsey County, but not able to count the multiple ballots in Ranked Voting elections because they are not certified by the Secretary of State, who first, must have authorization by state law to do so.
We will not be surprised if we learn of increased interest by Republicans in supporting Ranked Voting, especially in communities with high Democratic voting populations like Minneapolis and St Paul. When the Republican Party is ineffective in these places, they can support FairVoteMN and have the other fringe groups like the Green Party soften up the electorate for them.