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What the latest campaign finance reports tell us about the race to fill Minnesota’s vacant CD 1 U.S. House seat

In the absence of independent polls, one picture we do have — and it’s a limited one — is fundraising.

Brad Finstad
The leader in fundraising is Brad Finstad, the USDA Minnesota director for rural development under President Donald Trump and, prior to that, a member of the Minnesota House from 2003 to 2008.
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein

In 11 days, Minnesota First Congressional District primary voters will pick the Republican and Democrat they want to see on the ballot in the Aug. 9 special election to succeed Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February.

In the absence of independent polling, we don’t have a great picture of who voters support in either the DFL or the GOP primary, to be held May 24.

For now, one picture we do have is fundraising. A preelection Federal Election Commission report deadline Thursday covers campaign activities between April 1 and May 4, and gives us the first picture into candidate finances we’ve had since first-quarter filings, released mid-April.

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The Republican side

When it comes to the special election, Aug. 9, Congress watchers don’t expect the race to be particularly competitive: The Cook Political report deems the district “likely Republican, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball puts it in “Safe Republican” territory.

That means whoever wins the GOP primary has a good shot at winning the Aug. 9 special election and becoming a member of Congress.

Raising and spending for First Congressional District candidates running as Republicans
Source: Federal Elections Commission

In the Republican field, the leader in fundraising is Brad Finstad, the USDA Minnesota director for rural development under President Donald Trump and, prior to that, a member of the Minnesota House from 2003 to 2008.  Finstad, of the New Ulm area, reported raising $238,170 and having $77,040 on hand at the close of the reporting period.

His donors include former Minnesota Sen. Paul Anderson and former House minority leader and former gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert.

Finstad raised $25,500 from PACs in the reporting period, including donations from American Crystal Sugar PAC, the American Horticulture Industry Association PAC, Bold Active Conservatives of Nebraska PAC-Bacon PAC, Greater Tomorrow PAC, Koch Industries PAC, Lockridge Grindal Nauen Political Fund, Mediacom Communications Corporation PAC, Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC, Six PAC, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative PAC and the United Parcel Service Inc. PAC.

Matt Benda, an Albert Lea agricultural attorney and GOP activist, has raised $212,690 and has $131,370 on hand. He loaned his campaign $15,000 earlier this year.

Jennifer Carnahan, the former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and Hagedorn’s widow, has raised $203,760 and has $314,560 on hand, due in part to a $200,000 loan she made to her campaign this month.

Carnahan’s individual donors include Bob Haselow, a doctor who perennially donates to both Republican and DFL candidates, and members of the Hubbard family, of Hubbard Broadcasting, including Stanley and Karen Hubbard, consistent Republican donors. 

She reported no donations from PACs or political party committees.

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Jeremy Munson has represented Lake Crystal in the Minnesota House since 2018 and is a member of a breakaway Republican House caucus. 

Munson reported raising $163,120 and has a significant amount of cash on hand, $255,810, partly thanks to $200,000 he loaned his campaign earlier in the year.

Munson’s notable donors include GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen and GOP attorney general candidate Dennis Smith, plus conservative donor Robert Cummins. He raised $2,900 from PACs this reporting period, from the Defeating Communism PAC, which was established by David Dudenhoefer, a Republican who ran against Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Republican candidate Kevin Kocina reported raising $13,150 and having $5,450 on hand.

As of publication, the FEC had not posted a report for Republican candidate Nels Pierson, a state representative from Rochester who previously filed. We will update this story if Pierson’s report is posted. Three out of nine GOP candidates who have filed to run in the First Congressional District have not filed any campaign finance reports recently.

The DFL side

The DFL primary field is a less-crowded one, with seven candidates having filed. Only three have filed the most recent campaign finance reports.

Raising and spending for First Congressional District candidates running as Democrats
Source: Federal Elections Commission

Former Hormel CEO and current Hormel Foundation chair Jeff Ettinger, of Austin, has the biggest cash haul of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, with $423,330 raised — thanks, in large part, to $200,000 he donated to his campaign in April. His campaign has $79,960 on hand.

Ettinger’s donors include Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, Doug Baker, the former Ecolab CEO, and big DFL donors Alida Messinger and Vance Opperman. 

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Second in fundraising on the DFL side is Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former George W. Bush ethics lawyer. Painter reported raising $36,310 and has $7,440 on hand.

DFL candidate Sarah Brakebill-Hacke, a former political consultant, has raised $8,470 and has $4,740 on hand.

MinnPost’s campaign finance dashboard includes links to each candidate’s campaign finance report.