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Pioneer Editorial: Spending too much on campaigns

With two weeks to go to the Aug. 10 primary election, we find that campaign finance reports show that candidates for governor have spent nearly 9 million since January for a job that pays $120,303.

So what is it about this office? Is the prestige of being the governor of a small Midwest state that important? Some $9 million is a lot of money.

What's even more intriguing is that $8 million of that spending comes from the three candidates who will square off in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary. And it's not the DFL-endorsed candidate who's doing the spending.

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, of the department store and Target fame, put $2.7 million of his personal fortune into the pot. Former Minnesota House minority leader Matt Entenza, a lawyer whose wife was an executive at UnitedHealth, parted with $4 million of the family fortune.

That leaves House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the endorsed candidate, who spent $500,000 and has about $300,000 left. Should she win the primary, she'd have a small warchest in which to do battle with Republican candidate Tom Emmer, who has $355,000 cash on hand. Should Dayton or Entenza win the primary, it's not known how much more of their personal fortune they'd be willing to risk for that $120,303 job.

This discussion doesn't even include the amount of money spent by independent parties without the knowledge or consent of the candidates. That case became more complicated with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January that now allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

But Minnesota should do something about state races to limit the amount of money a candidate or candidate's family can contribute to the campaign. First Amendment rights shouldn't be restricted, but there should be provisions for a level playing field in a race.

We don't know if it would be constitutionally allowed to bar campaign advertising until so many days ahead of the election, but it's worth a try.

People are already sick and tired of the airwaves plugged with negative ads, costing millions of dollars, and it's still only July. There's 96 days yet to go to the Nov. 2 general election