Right out of the shoot Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley put the issue of ethics in Washington on the table. He attacked Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken for the tens of millions of dollars they have raised and spent.
When asked about whether the presidential candidates understood what's at the heart of the financial crisis, Barkley said Americans have lost their faith in politicians, and a good way to get it back would be to begin stripping special interests of their power.
"Wouldn't it be nice if Congress would actually pass an ethics law that would say any industry that you are regulating as a member of Congress you can not take special interest money from them," asked Barkley. "Maybe if they would do something like that we could start restoring faith that Congress isn't in the pockets of big money."
In the debate Barkley used the amount of money that has been poured into Minnesota's Senate race to make his argument for public campaign financing. Barkley says every voter should be given a $100 voucher to divide up among federal candidates.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
"In this U.S. Senate race, I mean we couldn't have a better example of special interests gone wild. The amount of money that has been raised and spent is the state history, this has been the most expensive, most divisive, most negative campaign Minnesotans have even gone through. If I see one more TV ad I'm going to go crazy," said Barkley.
Republican candidate Sen. Norm Coleman took issue with Barkley's call for public financing.
"I'm going to say it out front, the idea of public financing is something I have not supported," said Coleman.
Norm Coleman then went on to point out that his campaign has stopped running negative TV ads.
Al Franken said he would support public campaign financing. Franken also tried to prevent Coleman from gaining any political points for the ad strategy change-up Sen. Coleman has been lately speaking about in the campaign.
"Senator Coleman has run millions of dollars of negative ads against me. They back fired so he stopped running them," said Franken.
Franken has repeatedly acknowledged some of his ads are negative. He defends his approach saying his ads are negative, because they focus on Coleman's record.
Barkley asked Coleman to go beyond pulling his negative ads and apologize for running them in the first place. Coleman repeatedly responded to criticism from Franken and Barkley by saying that one can't just criticize from the cheap seats.
"I mean part of what you get here is a degrading of the institution. Dean, you know, pontificates. He was a tobacco lobbyist and a gambling lobbyist. I mean it's easy to sit up and tear this system apart," said Coleman.
Coleman also criticized Barkley for his role in the administration of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
While Barkley went after Coleman more than Franken, he used Franken's proposal to give college students a $5,000 tax credit to attack Franken for the spending that Franken has proposed.
"I mean who's going to pay for this? I mean we're broke. We're 11 trillion dollars in debt, and I'm not going to sit there and pander to people out there about all these wonderful things I'd like to do. I've love to do it too. But we can't afford it," said Barkley.
Franken defended his campaign promises to spend more money, saying that increasing taxes on millionaires alone would raise billions of dollars. Franken criticized Barkley for his proposal to freeze federal spending for four years.
"You can't freeze the budget. That's using, Barack Obama said that last night to McCain, that's using a meat clever. We need a scalpel, and we need to get money into the hands of the middle class," said Coleman.
Franken also said more money would be available for domestic spending if the U.S. got out of Iraq.
On Iraq Franken called for a timeline for withdrawing troops, and he criticized Coleman for not saying the invasion was a bad idea.
Coleman defended himself.
"I'm a United States Senator. Among the most challenging responsibilities that I have is I talk to the relatives of loved ones, folks who have died. And one of the things that I'm simply not going to do while I hold this office is to say this was a mistake. It was a mistake in reconstruction; it was a mistake in the way the war was fought. Were there many mistakes made along the way," said Coleman. "Absolutely and I've stood up, and I've said that, but I'm not going to tell the parents of any kids who died in Iraq that your son died for a mistake. I simply won't do it."
Barkley, who initially supported the war, now says it was a mistake. He's been calling for the immediate safe withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The three major party Senate candidates meet again for a fourth debate on Friday, Oct. 24. Their final forum will be hosted by Minnesota Public Radio at the Fitzgerald Theater on Sunday, Nov. 2nd.