Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Who received political donations from the Star Tribune’s incoming publisher and board chair?

Though their check-writing was bipartisan, both new publisher Mike Klingensmith and board chair Mike Sweeney tilted Democratic, and establishment, in their giving.

Got a nice, if brief, call from new Star Tribune publisher Mike Klingensmith Friday afternoon to introduce himself. (I’d called him Monday to see if he wanted to tell me first about the job that was announced Thursday.) It went better than my first call with his predecessor, and Klingensmith asked for a few days to get his feet on the ground before doing a formal interview.

Still, it’s a Braublog tradition to disclose the political contributions of a Strib publisher upon arrival, so Klingensmith was willing to talk a bit now about his giving.

The publisher, as you savvy readers know, sits on the Strib’s editorial board and has a big say in the paper’s editorial direction. It’s common knowledge, for example, that ex-publisher Chris Harte pushed the page in a conservative direction. Or, as new Strib board chair Mike Sweeney puts it, “My understanding of Chris’s view was that he wanted to be fair to both sides. And I have invited the editorial board to express strong opinions when it’s warranted, even if it offends people on either side.”

So which side did Klingensmith, and Sweeney, fall toward when giving? Here’s the Federal Election Commission tale of the tape:

Article continues after advertisement

When the Republicans were in charge of Congress, Klingensmith gave to the GOP. In 2000, he gave $1,000 to Indiana conservative Rep. Dan Burton and Arizona moderate Rep. Jim Kolbe (who made news when he came out as gay). In 2001, the then-Time, Inc. executive donated $1,000 to moderate upstate New Yorker John McHugh, now Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Army.

By 2003-04, Klingensmith’s giving tipped toward Democrats, including $1,000 to Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and $500 to House liberal Henry Waxman, though he also donated $1,000 to Virginia’s moderate GOP Rep. Tom Davis. In 2005, Klingensmith gave $1,000 to then-Democrat Joe Lieberman.

(What is it with Strib publishers and Lieberman? Harte gave $2,000 to Joe the same cycle, when Lieberman was fighting off liberal Ned Lamont.)

Republicans still controlled the Congress at that point, but Democrats took over after the 2006 elections. In 2007, Klingensmith gave Carper another $1,000, balancing that with an equal amount to Republican Senate moderate Susan Collins.

Explains Klingensmith, whose Time duties included stints overseeing glossies like Sports Illustrated, “Many of my political contributions were to individuals who were supportive of issues important to the magazine publishing industry, like Susan Collins and Tom Carper on postal matters.”

As the 2008 presidential race approached, Klingensmith signaled his early favorite by donating $1,000 to Joe Biden’s campaign in May 2007. But in the election year, his allegiance switched; all told, between January and September 2008, Klingensmith donated $1,250 to Obama.

All in all, bipartisan, big-business-like, skewed toward the D.C. Establishment, with a whiff of fashionable Democratic insurgency late. (Obama was not yet a favorite when Klingensmith started giving.)

Says Klingensmith, “I was registered as an Independent in New York and I have most often supported individuals as opposed to political parties. If your search is exhaustive, you will find that I have made contributions to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama at different points in time.”

(Note: An search doesn’t turn up a Bush contribution, but I’ll take him at his word.)

Article continues after advertisement

Klingensmith adds, “While in my current position at the Star Tribune — which is a different role than I have been in before — I will not be making any political contributions as a matter of policy.”

Sweeney, a private equity financier, promised to follow the same no-giving pledge “religiously.” When he was writing checks, his contributions were also bipartisan, though more Dem-skewing.

Sweeney gave $250 to Democratic Senate incumbent Paul Wellstone in 2002, and $1,000 to Democrat Ford Bell in the 2006 election, won by Amy Klobuchar. Sweeney gave $2,000 to Democratic challenger Mike Ciresi in late 2007, but in January 2008, donated $500 to the Republican Ciresi was trying to oust, Sen. Norm Coleman. (Ciresi didn’t drop out of the race that Al Franken won until March.)

Also in the 2008 cycle, Sweeney gave $1,000 to liberal DFL 3rd Congressional District House candidate Terri Bonoff (later bested for the nomination by Ashwin Madia), and $1,000 to conservative 2nd District Rep. John Kline. He also donated $5,000 to the Democratic National Committee in October 2007.

I don’t expect conservatives to be pleased with this record, but many seem happiest ripping the Strib as the Red Star. Harte’s push toward the middle, or further, yielded few dividends with that crowd.

Yet Sweeney’s state-level giving is tilted Republican, at least monetarily. His biggest single contribution, $2,000, went to anti-tax Republican Brian Sullivan in 2002. Sullivan later bowed out in favor of Tim Pawlenty. Sweeney later donated $250 to DFL nominee Roger Moe. In 2005, Sweeney gave $250 to Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson for the 2006 governor’s race, but in 2007, after Pawlenty was re-elected, he gave $250 to Republican governor.

As you might expect, Sweeney isn’t framing the new opinionating era in terms of partisanship. He says he expects the editorial page to “write with stronger opinions, as opposed to an ongoing effort to see both sides of every issue. They’ll be writing a lot about the governor’s race, because that is the only truly powerful office we have in Minnesota state government. We feel citizens need to be informed about that race in a way an editorial does best.”

With Harte gone, editorials might be taking baby steps toward getting tough on TPaw’s less-legal actions, though you still have to squint a bit too much to see it, and there is the rationalizing balancer elsewhere in the section. I do think the Strib’s editorializers feel a new, and palpable, sense of freedom, but it remains to be seen what they’ll do with it.