A group funded by Minnesota corporations has begun running a TV ad praising Republican gubernatorial hopeful Tom Emmer. The ad is the latest effort by an independent group that hopes to influence elections.
The ad focuses on Emmer's commitment to Minnesota businesses.
"As a legislator, Emmer voted against job-killing taxes and for reduced government spending. Now he's running for governor, working to grow jobs, getting government out of the way," the ad stated in part.
The ad looks like one Emmer's campaign would run -- but it's not. In fact, Emmer isn't even allowed to communicate with the group that paid for the ad, called Minnesota Forward.
Minnesota Forward is an umbrella organization that's funded by Minnesota businesses including Target, Polaris, Hubbard Broadcasting and Davisco Foods. Because of a U.S Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, those businesses and other companies are now allowed to spend corporate money to influence elections.
That court ruling, along with an open governor's race, means political spending will dramatically increase from the last governor's race.
"We're going to see probably double the amount of what we saw in 2006," said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board.
“We're going to see probably double the amount of [campaign spending] we saw in 2006.”Gary Goldsmith, Minnesota Campaign Finance Board
In 2006, political committees spent $6 million on independent expenditures. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Minnesota law banned corporations from spending on politics. But the law was changed, and now Goldsmith expects corporations to use the political megaphone to influence elections.
"We have corporations whose voices were not heard in the political arena previously, who can now at least make spending in the form of independent expenditures, which is primarily going to be ads that are not to be coordinated with candidates. And so we have a new voice and a new source of money in the political process," said Goldsmith.
Some lawmakers aren't happy that companies are taking sides in the governor's race. State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says it's unwise for Target Corp. to back Emmer, because his views on abortion, gay marriage and the minimum wage could upset Target shoppers.
"Why they would want to get involved and say 'we're for one person' or 'we're for one party' is really beyond me," said Winkler. "There are a lot of people who take politics very seriously and they take their views on issues very seriously, and they do not want to see their money going directly to fund somebody who is directly antagonistic to their belief system."
Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud says Target does not give funds based on party, but on which candidates and causes "directly effect the company's retail agenda."
She said the company gave $150,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to Minnesota Forward because the group's mission is to elect candidates from both parties who are focused on making "economic growth a priority."
"Target is very proud to call Minnesota home," said Michaud. "We want a business environment that allows us to be competitive, provide jobs, support our communities and deliver on our commitment to shareholders."
Officials with Hubbard Broadcasting and Davisco Foods didn't return calls seeking comment. An official with Polaris declined comment, and referred calls to Brian McClung with Minnesota Forward.
McClung, who until recently was chief spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, says his organization is backing Emmer because he's the only candidate who supports spending cuts and tax cuts. McClung says the new rules won't change state politics much.
"The type of election effort that Minnesota Forward is undertaking had been previously legal in 26 states," said McClung. "With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling it's allowed in all states, and we think people understand that job providers have a role to play in this conversation."
McClung points out that labor unions, DFL donors and the Democratic Governors Association are also funding independent groups this election cycle. Those groups, Win Minnesota and the 2010 Fund, are paying for ads criticizing Emmer's record in the Legislature.