Franken campaign works to control damage

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson of Eagan, Minn., is a Franken supporter who helped spread the word Tuesday about Al Franken's tax problem.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

DFL delegate Jim Johnson got a call from the Franken campaign late Tuesday afternoon.

By early evening Johnson was working the phone himself to try to convince other Democrats the story was no big deal.

"This is 'gotcha' politics," he said. "This is just talking about issues that just really don't matter to other people."

Johnson has been a Franken supporter from the beginning, and he's not worried about the tax problems.

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Al Franken
DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken. Franken is paying about $70,000 in back taxes in 17 states.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"Is it an issue that needs to be resolved? Yes," he said. "Should it have been resolved ideally a year ago, cleaned up? Yes. But this too will pass. It really will."

Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said with the help of people like Johnson, the campaign called every state convention delegate and alternate.

"We called everybody," he said, "even people that we knew were supporting a different candidate in the endorsement race. And even from folks who were not supporting Al what we were hearing was, 'you know we're glad you guys were on top of this. Thank you for being forthright and letting us know what was going on and frankly what can we do to help.'"

In addition to contacting the people who will decide the DFL endorsement, Barr said the campaign was quick to explain the latest tax problem to groups, like unions, that have formally endorsed Franken's bid for Senate.

Javier Morillo is the president of Service Employees International Local 26. He represents 5,000 janitors, security officers, and window cleaners in the Twin Cities metro area. He said Franken's effort is working.

"I appreciated the call because they just wanted to make sure that their allies and supporters heard directly from the campaign," he said.

Morillo said his union is not hearing concerns about Franken's tax problems from rank-and-file members. He said the service employees are not reconsidering their endorsement of Franken.

Morillo said he thinks his working-class union members know how difficult it can be to correctly handle some tax situations.

"Many Minnesotans, many American can relate to our tax system being incredibly complicated," he said. "He paid every single dime of taxes, he just paid it to the wrong state."

Actually, Franken says correcting the tax mistakes cost him about $4,000 more in taxes, excluding penalties.

Republicans are using the tax problem to portray Franken as a wealthy entertainer with little regard for following the law.

At the latest GOP news conference about Franken's tax problems, state party chairman Ron Carey said Republicans will continue to scrutinize Franken's dealings. Carey predicted there will be more discoveries of wrongdoing, and he dismissed the Franken defense that it's all an accountant's fault.

"The real problem is not with the output of an accountant but with the input of the CEO of the company, Al Franken," he said.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said the growing collection of Franken tax problems threatens the viability of Franken's Senate candidacy.

He said there is probably a lot of DFL talk behind closed doors about whether the party needs to find another candidate with money and name recognition.

Schier said Franken's problems could also boost prospects for Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, who's competing with Franken for the DFL endorsement to run against Republican Norm Coleman.

"I think these events regarding Franken raise the possibility that a new candidate may jump into the endorsement contest or that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer may get more support or that a number of people may go uncommitted and simply vote uncommitted in the endorsement," he said. "All of that is bad news for the Franken campaign, but that's the situation they face right now."

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has declined to comment on Franken's tax situation.