Millions stockpiled for Minnesota's 2022 election fight

GOP candidates for governor
From left: GOP candidates for governor Mike Marti, Paul Gazelka, Scott Jensen, Neil Shah and Mike Murphy gather to shake hands after a forum Wednesday inside Minnesota State University.
Trey Mewes | Mankato Free Press

Gov. Tim Walz has a big cash advantage going into the 2022 gubernatorial elections, but other hotly contested Minnesota races feature something closer to fundraising parity between Democrats and Republicans.

New data released Tuesday by the state Campaign Finance Board tracks fundraising by candidates, parties and outside groups in Minnesota for 2021. Campaigns will have to file more frequent reports on their fundraising and spending as this year’s elections draw near.

As of Dec. 31, Walz had $3.6 million in his campaign account as he seeks a second term as Minnesota’s governor. That’s more than twice as much as all his would-be Republican opponents combined, as they launch into a competitive primary battle to be the GOP nominee.

Cash on hand for Minnesota gubernatorial candidates

These fundraising reports don’t include some candidates who got into the race in 2022, after the 2021 reporting period. That includes Republican gubernatorial candidates Kendall Qualls and Rich Stanek, and Republican candidate for state auditor Ryan Wilson.

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Walz’s cash advantage could be whittled away as the election draws near by spending from outside groups. Many of Minnesota’s biggest campaign spenders, such as the DFL-backing Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the GOP-aligned Minnesota Jobs Coalition, don’t do much fundraising during off-years because they can rake in cash quickly in six-and-seven-figure checks as elections get closer.

Another DFL incumbent with a big cash advantage is Secretary of State Steve Simon, who has more than $460,000 in his war chest. None of Simon’s declared rivals has more than 10 percent of that on hand. 

But incumbent Attorney General Keith Ellison is in a much tighter financial race. Ellison’s nearest GOP rival, Dennis Smith, has nearly as much money as he does, and the declared Republican candidates together have combined to outraise Ellison.

Cash on hand for MN constitutional office candidates

Both parties have been raking in millions for this fall’s legislative elections. Combining money held by candidates and the party caucuses, Democrats and Republicans have equal money on hand for state Senate races. Democrats have the money edge in state House campaigns, driven by their flush party caucus committee.

Cash on hand for Minnesota legislative races

Campaigns need money to hire staff, buy ads, and otherwise get their message out to voters. But the candidates with the most money don’t always win. In 2020, Democrats outspent Republicans two-to-one for both the state House and Senate, but failed to retake the Senate and saw their House majority shrink.

Total spending on 2020 Minnesota legislative races by chamber and party
Democrats outspent Republicans in the 2020 elections for the Minnesota House and Senate, but failed to retake the Senate and saw their House majority shrink.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Not all fundraising reports are created equal. For example, Republican gubernatorial rivals Michelle Benson and Neil Shah both collected about $220,000 in total funds last year.

But Benson spent $90,000 on her campaign last year, while Shah spent $190,000. The result is Benson has more than four times the cash on hand despite similar fundraising figures. (And Shah’s cash-on-hand was bolstered by a $50,000 loan he gave to his own campaign.)

2021 Minnesota gubernatorial fundraising by Republicans