Torrent of money is unleashed across Minnesota campaigns

Side-by-side screenshot of governor candidates
Minnesota Governor candidates Scott Jensen and Tim Walz are running multiple campaign ads.
Screenshots from the Scott Jensen and Tim Walz campaigns

The campaign cash dash is quickly shifting to a phase where candidates, parties and independent groups are unloading money at a rapid clip as they try to sway voters tuning in ahead of the November election.

New campaign reports published Wednesday reveal the ramp-up in spending in races for governor to attorney general on down to the fight for control of the Legislature.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz entered the final six weeks with about $3.2 million available to spend after spending slightly more than that between mid July and mid September. His Republican opponent, former state Sen. Scott Jensen, had about $865,000 at the ready after sending nearly twice that much out the door in the preceding two months.

The rivals brought in similar amounts over that stretch, but that was helped along by a $584,000 public subsidy Jensen received. The subsidy, which comes with conditions, was larger because Walz decided not to abide by a race spending cap.

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Both campaigns hailed their hauls.

“As Election Day approaches, more and more Minnesotans are showing their support for Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan’s leadership,” said Nichole Johnson, the campaign manager for the incumbents’ re-election team.

"Everyday Minnesotans clearly want a change in leadership in our state, and they're not only propelling us to record breaking numbers, but victory this fall,” Jensen said in a written statement. 

Their campaign figures are only part of the story: Jensen is getting battered by outside spending. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which is the main DFL-aligned group active in the race, has already plowed $9 million into digital and TV ads against Jensen, most of it since he won the GOP nomination in August.

The Planned Parenthood of Minnesota Action Fund, which is sitting on $1 million, has devoted $400,000 to the governor’s race. Part of it has gone to brochures and canvassers for Walz and part for similar efforts against Jensen.

The corresponding Republican spending is tougher to track. The Freedom Club, which has paid for anti-Walz billboards, a plane banner and other visibility tools around the State Fair, is doing its spending through an entity that doesn’t report to state regulators.

But big dollars are sloshing around up and down the fall ticket:

  • In the attorney general’s race, DFL incumbent Keith Ellison retained a $923,000 to $321,000 available cash edge over Republican challenger Jim Schultz. Like Jensen, Ellison benefited from a $147,000 public subsidy when Schultz opted out of the program. But outside entities have made ample television reservations for the closing weeks, which could dwarf what even what the candidates put in.

  • For secretary of state, DFL incumbent Steve Simon held a commanding bankroll advantage over Republican Kim Crockett — $967,000 to $287,000. There, too, groups were starting to steer significant amounts into the race.

  • The state auditor’s contest was the sole race where the Republican candidate had more money left to spend. First-time candidate Ryan Wilson entered fall with $162,000 at the ready while DFL incumbent Julie Blaha had roughly $75,000. But Wilson has gotten there by personally absorbing most of his campaign’s costs.

This reporting period didn’t require state House and Senate candidates to detail their fundraising and expenses. That will happen next in October.

But the DFL and Republican caucuses in the chambers did have to show their cards.

The DFL caucuses held the financial advantage, with $2.8 million reserved for the Senate DFL and about $2 million for the House DFL. But both of those benefited from major cash transfers from the state party and a national group aiding Democrats in legislative races.

Senate Republicans, who currently hold the majority, were sitting on about $1.9 million. House Republicans had just shy of $1 million.

But in those races, too, outside forces will be amplified. Unions, business groups and other interests hoping to sway policy at the Capitol are spreading money around.

With the majorities expected to come down to a narrow band of seats, some of those contests could turn into $1 million to $2 million affairs. Most of that will be in the form of ads over which the candidates have no control.