After Walz was sworn in, big bucks for inaugural poured in

Tim Walz takes the oath of office for Minnesota governor.
Tim Walz takes the oath of office for Minnesota governor during the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 7, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

The inaugural committee for Gov. Tim Walz raked in $230,000 from unions, corporations and firms with teams of Capitol lobbyists after he took his oath of office, new documents filed with the IRS show.

The required report for the “One Minnesota Inaugural Committee” was submitted to the IRS on Wednesday along with one detailing expenses for transition activities.

All told, the inaugural committee took in almost $700,000 since its inception and spent about $534,000 on venues, catering, entertainment and other operating expenses.

Kristen McMullen, co-chair for the inaugural committee, said the money was needed to carry out the new governor’s wish to have accessible events in several cities.

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“Gov. Walz brought his inaugural celebration to Minnesotans across the state and the inaugural committee worked hard to ensure all the events were free and open to the public,” McMullen said in a written response to questions from MPR News.

A prior report showed a gusher of fundraising — $380,000 — between the Walz win in November and the end of 2018. Money came in from similar sources as this year.

The new filing indicates the fundraising didn’t let up, with a bulk of the $310,000 donated this year coming in after Jan. 7. That was the day Walz, a DFLer and former congressman, formally attained the “governor” title.

Unlike campaign committee accounts, inaugural committees face no restrictions in Minnesota law on which donors can give or how much. Some states have considered legislation to regulate inaugural committees but few do.

According to the report, there were 16 checks this year greater than $10,000. The largest was $50,000 and came from POET LLC, a biofuels development company based in Sioux Falls, S.D., that has ethanol operations in Minnesota.

Phone and email messages left with the company, which had permit matters pending before a state agency early this year, weren’t immediately returned on Friday.

Larger donors were treated to recognition in the official program, invitations to a sponsor reception, commemorative gifts and valet parking.

There were roughly 20 donations that came in after the Minnesota Legislature opened its session in early January. Some inaugural contributions came as late as mid-April, when Walz and lawmakers were nearing the point of key decisions.

That’s notable because candidates for office and party caucuses are barred from raising money from lobbyists and political action funds while lawmakers are in session. Corporations aren’t allowed to give to campaign accounts for candidates and parties directly in any circumstance, although their officers can donate as individuals.

The inaugural and transition committees get around that restriction because in this case they are organized and regulated through the federal IRS not the Minnesota campaign board.

McMullen said Walz didn’t personally solicit money nor did he review rosters of who gave. She said there were no requests for money during the legislative session even though some pledged funds came in then.

Among the 2019 givers:

  • $25,000 from Minneapolis law firm Winthrop and Weinstine, which has a team of contract lobbyists at the Capitol. Similarly, law firm Dorsey and Whitney contributed $10,000 while Lockridge Grindal Nauen, Faegre Baker Daniels and Stinson Leonard Street each gave $5,000.

  • Behind POET, the largest corporate donor was UnitedHealth Group at $25,000.

  • $10,000 each came from Best Buy, CenturyLink, Delta Air Lines, the Minnesota Vikings, Target, Xcel Energy, Deloitte and developer Dominium.

  • Drugmaker Pfizer, mining company Cleveland Cliffs and utility Minnesota Power were among the banks, telecommunications businesses and energy companies to supply $5,000 donations.

  • Unions came through, too, with $25,000 from a union for painters and allied trades and $10,000 from a Teamsters local.

  • And the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe chipped in $10,000.

The money was used toward several public celebrations Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan held to mark their inauguration. The bulk of the dollars went for planning or to reserve space in St. Paul, Mankato, Duluth and Moorhead. Musicians and food were also big expenses.

The plan is for the inaugural committee to remain open until all expenses are paid and outstanding financial pledges are satisfied.

As for the transition, the One Minnesota Transition Committee reported to the IRS that it spent $181,000 between the election and mid-2019. That covered legal fees, equipment rental and staff payroll.

Consultant Patrick Ness collected more than $13,600 and current Walz chief of staff Chris Schmitter earned the most among staff at $12,300.

The Minnesota Department of Management and Budget was listed as a major source of funding for the transition, supplying $132,000. But another sizable chunk came from a union, the SEIU Minnesota State Council, which gave $25,000.