In campaign's closing days, Minn. DFL has more cash than GOP

2012 Legislature opens
Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives in their chamber on the first day of the 2012 session Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 at the State Capitol in St. Paul. As Election Day nears, the DFL Party has a financial advantage over the GOP as they compete for control of the House and Senate.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

As legislative candidates vie for votes in the final days of the campaign, there's a separate, less obvious battle going on between the parties: In the money war between the state's Democrats and Republicans, the Democrats have the clear upper hand a week from Election Day.

The Minnesota DFL Party has raised nearly $8.2 million to try to return the Legislature to Democratic power since the start of the year, according to its last finance report of the year filed Monday with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The DFL has roughly $1.1 million in the bank to spend between now and Nov. 6.

The Republican Party of Minnesota, on the other hand, has raised $1.1 million since the start of the year to protect its majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. It faces a difficult financial situation in the last week of the election, with only $3,100 in the bank.

Party chair Pat Shortridge said Republicans will have enough money to give the party's candidates a good chance to win.

"What we have in the bank on a particular day or what the report says, circumstances have changed four or five times since that happened," Shortridge said.

"It's not a fundraising contest, it's an election," he added.

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While Minnesota DFL chair Ken Martin says he's happy with his party's cash advantage, it's not about how much money they've raised, it's how it's been spent on infrastructure to support volunteers, staffers and offices around the state.

Martin said much of the party's focus has been on races where redistricting has landed Republican incumbents in more left-leaning areas.

"It's sort of the perfect storm," Martin said. "When you combine the redistricting and demographic changes and elected officials who are voting outside of the mainstream of their districts, it makes them more vulnerable than they have been in the past."

The contest in Edina between Republican Rep. Keith Downey and DFL newcomer Melisa Franzen is among those races. The DFL has spent more than $140,000 on campaign literature to defeat Downey and elect Franzen.

There are significant differences in where the DFL and GOP's money is coming from, too.

The DFL's report includes 20 pages and millions in cash and in-kind contributions largely from unions and the legislative caucuses. It's most generous individual donor is Alida Messinger, who gave $402,500 to the party. She's Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife, and is also credited with helping seed and start the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a liberal organization also invested in this year's elections.

The GOP can count the legislative Republican caucuses as major contributors, but their list of donors is otherwise small.

Of the 28 individuals and groups who donated to the Minnesota GOP, Pawn America Owner Bradley Rixmann was the most generous individual, giving $70,000 to the party. Other major contributors include Karen and Stanley Hubbard who own Hubbard Broadcasting and former Target CEO Robert Ulrich. Some of the GOP's big donors from prior election cycles appear to be sitting this year out, though.

Wealthy conservative donor Robert Cummins gave the party $335,000 in 2010, but has contributed nothing this year. Neither have Harold Hamilton or Rodney Burwell, both loyal Republican donors. Both parties have their share of debt, with the Minnesota DFL owing about $310,000 for polling and legal fees associated with the redistricting process and about $216,000 from a federal account meant to support candidates for Congress.

The Republican Party still owes vendors about $1 million from its state account and about $890,000 from its federal account, a sign that it's still digging out of the hidden debt Shortridge inherited when former party chief Tony Sutton resigned suddenly last year.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said that the GOP's trouble fundraising reflects a weak Senate candidate in Rep. Kurt Bills, who is running against Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the rise of outside spending groups competing for donor dollars and lack of donor confidence in the party.

"Basically you've got a political party that's financially imploded," Jacobs said. "And to have basically no money in the bank for the last week of the campaign is almost unilateral disarmament."

Meanwhile, the Democrats' investment in down ballot races is unprecedented, Jacobs said. "If Democrats don't get the majority back, hard questions need to be asked about what happened to all that money," he said. "That is a phenomenal amount of money for legislative races."


The state parties aren't the only ones spending big on the legislative races.

The House and Senate DFL caucuses have raised about $5.7 million this year, and the Republican caucuses have raised about $2.5 million for their candidates.

But while the caucuses and state parties have done their fair share of spending for individual campaigns, they're also getting an assist from a slew of outside spending groups that can't coordinate with candidates, but can send out mailers and produce ads on their behalf.

On the left is the Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM) and its two big fundraising committees, WIN Minnesota and the 2012 Fund. All told, the trio has raised $3.7 million, which has largely been spent through ABM on television advertising for specific candidates. ABM also dropped about $62,000 on an ad to defeat a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls.

On the right is a constellation of business groups typically support Republicans. Together, these groups, which get most of their cash from the business community, have raised a combined $2.6 million and have spent about $2 million helping legislative candidates.

Among them is Minnesota's Future, which has raised $1.3 million, with $535,000 coming from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps state and local Republicans win seats.

The RSLC is "investing all over the country," said Chris Tiedeman, who works for Weber Johnson Public Affairs and runs Minnesota's Future. "That's their role, is to try and help win legislative races, and Minnesota is competitive."

The conservative Freedom Club has raised about $1.6 million since the start of the year and spent nearly as much to help Republicans get elected. Nearly $1.2 came from Joan Cummins, who is married to Robert Cummins, the conservative donor who helped start the group many years ago.

The Freedom Club has spent more than most Republican political organizations on certain races. For instance, it's dropped $126,000 on mailers in the Edina Downey-Franzen race - the same match-up that has been the focus of DFL efforts.


Groups working for and against two constitutional amendments are raising and spending an outsized amount of cash as well.

Minnesotans United for All Families, which is working to defeat a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, has raised about $10 million and spent about as much working to defeat the amendment.

While Minnesota for Marriage, a group working to support the amendment, hasn't filed its latest finance report, the group says it has raised $5 million since the start of its campaign and spent about $4 million.

In the final weeks before the election, fundraising around an amendment to require voters to show photo ID has picked up, too.

ProtectMyVote, a group that supports the amendment has raised nearly $1.5 million - about $1.2 million more than was reported in its last filing - and has spent about $502,000 to promote the proposal.

Our Vote Our Future, which opposes the amendment, has raised $2.6 million, about $2.1 million more than just a few weeks ago. It has spent nearly that much to defeat the proposal.