Swift Boat financier was primary source behind anti-Hatch ads

Mike Hatch
DFLer Mike Hatch lost his bid for the governor's office in the November 2006 election, to incumbent Republican Tim Pawlenty.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

A Stronger America is an independent political organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. A financial report filed with the IRS shows the group raised more than $797,000 this year and spent nearly $617,000.

Bob Perry of Houston, Texas, and the owner of Perry Homes, made the largest single contribution of $500,000 in late October. Perry financed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that ran ads against Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. Those ads made unsubstantiated allegations about Kerry's Vietnam War heroism.

Joe Weber, a spokesman for the Minnesota chapter of A Stronger America, says all of the Perry donation was spent in Minnesota on TV ads and direct mail. Weber says he still doesn't know why Perry got involved in the Minnesota race for governor. "I was informed that a large contribution was made. I think it's not unlike what has happened around the country. I think that Mr. Perry is a good, generous Republican looking for like-minded, pro-growth, pro-economic growth leaders around the country. I think he identify this race as being one where he wanted to get involved," he said.

Most of the other contributions came from organizations and individuals in Minnesota. The Local Action PAC contributed $75,000. The Committee of Automobile Retailers donated $55,000. Another $32,000 came from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund-PAC. Spokesman Bill Blazer says the PAC was concerned Mike Hatch, if elected, would be bad for the state's business climate.

"As the campaign was coming to a conclusion, I think there was a sense that Attorney General Hatch was closing the gap and maybe even ahead, and a real sense of urgency that for the sake of the state's economy, we needed to get more engaged than we had been," Blazer said.

The group's TV ads claimed Hatch was under investigation for "influence peddling," and that he supported tax increases. Hatch quickly denounced the ads and pointed out a likely swift boat connection. Both groups had the same mailing address.

Six weeks after Hatch lost his bid to unseat Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing attorney general says it's time to move on. But Hatch says the incident shows the need for better campaign finance disclosure laws.

"A half a million dollars coming in from a Houston home builder is probably something the public ought to know about in the heat of a campaign. And the way to change that is simply require disclosure of these groups on a more timely basis. The way our current laws are established is that basically after October 23, everything is free," Hatch said.

Hatch says the Perry-backed ads were only one of several reasons he lost the election. He declined to offer any further analysis.

It's still not clear how much money the Minnesota Chapter of A Stronger America raised and spent in 2006. Joe Weber says another financial report due next month will provide additional details.