Wellstone Sons Create Nonprofit

Posted April 1, 2003 at 6:34pm

Joining forces with a host of liberal heavyweights, the sons of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) announced Tuesday that they have formed a nonprofit organization to honor and continue the work of their parents, who died in a plane crash last October.

Wellstone Action, which has applied for 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 status, will focus on political organizing, training and issue advocacy, and is prohibited from donating or funneling money to candidates.

David and Mark Wellstone are serving as co-chairmen of the Wellstone Action Advisory Committee, a group that includes three current and four former Senators as well as liberal Washington, Minnesota and Hollywood activists.

The Senator, his wife Sheila, their daughter Marcia and three campaign aides were among those killed when their small plane crashed near Eveleth, Minn., on Oct. 25, 2002. Wellstone was in the midst of a hard-fought campaign for a third term.

In an e-mail to Wellstone supporters Tuesday, David Wellstone wrote that the first goal of the organization will be to motivate and train people around the country to be active in politics.

“Not long after the tragic death of our parents we sat down with a number of their close friends and supporters,” David Wellstone wrote in the e-mail. “It was agreed that we all share a responsibility to carry on Paul and Sheila’s work to advance social progress and economic justice.”

To that end, the organization is in the early stages of developing “Camp Wellstone,” a weekend-long training program for anyone interested in running for office, working on a political campaign or becoming a citizen activist or volunteer. The first camp is tentatively scheduled to take place this June in Minnesota. The group hopes to be able to hold the camp in other states by the fall.

According to the organization’s Web site, Camp Wellstone “participants will learn how to use the Wellstone model to win elections (as a candidate or staff), implement an effective grassroots advocacy campaign and help effect social or political change as an individual.”

Veteran Democratic operative Donna Brazile, a Wellstone Action board member, said the organization will play a large role in “rebuilding progressive politics.”

“I’m interested in providing all of the free and generous time I can to the next generation of political activists,” Brazile said.

Sam Kaplan, a Minneapolis lawyer who chaired Wellstone’s 1990 and ’96 campaigns, said the focus on grassroots organization is a fitting tribute to the late Senator.

“Paul’s number one message always was organize,” Kaplan recalled.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of the late Senator’s closest friends and also an advisory board member for the new group, noted that former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who is also a Wellstone Action advisory board member, had tried to start a similar organization after leaving office in 1995. Now, with Republicans in control of the White House, Senate and House, Harkin hopes the group will attract “a whole wellspring of new voters.”

Harkin said he has spoken to David and Mark Wellstone about raising money for the group, but that no plans were firmly in place yet.

Wellstone Action plans to develop a large national network of Wellstone supporters to work on direct-advocacy campaigns on issues that Wellstone embraced, such as universal health care and economic justice. The group will also concentrate on the prevention of domestic violence, an issue strongly associated with Sheila Wellstone.

As a whole, the Wellstone Action Advisory Board reads like a who’s who of progressive activists. Warren Beatty, Al Franken, Robert Redford and Peter Yarrow are among the entertainment industry liberals listed on the advisory board. Several former Wellstone aides are also involved.

Other sitting Senators on the board, besides Harkin, are Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and the former Senators are Democrats Bill Bradley (N.J.), Paul Simon (Ill.) and Walter Mondale (Minn.). Mondale, who is also a former vice president, replaced Wellstone on the ballot last November but was defeated by now-Sen. Norm Coleman (R).

Kaplan said that there have been discussions with the former vice president about using some of the money left in his Senate campaign account to fund the nonprofit. Mondale ended 2002 with $894,000 left in his campaign account, according to the Federal Election Commission, having raised more than $2.6 million in little more than a week.

Judging by Wellstone’s past fundraising efforts, the group will likely hit the ground running with an impressive grassroots fundraising base. At times Tuesday the Wellstone Action Web site experienced difficulty because of the numerous hits it was receiving.

“I must say that this is energizing for us,” Kaplan said.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.