The DFL-supporting Alliance for a Better Minnesota has raised nearly as much as the eight leading candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor combined, according to state campaign finance data.
Much of campaign fundraising tends to focus on how much candidates have raised, with campaigns frantically raising money leading up to reporting deadlines to assure their totals connote strength. They then issue press releases hoping to spin media coverage their way.
But independent expenditure committees are the source of real money in politics. They fuel the TV ads and mailings that are most evident to voters.
In the case of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, since Jan. 1 it raised $10.5 million, compared to $10.6 million for the leading candidates running statewide. And it’s just one of two dozen significant committees, in addition to operations run by the four caucuses in the Legislature and the two party central committees that, by law, must raise and spend money separately from the campaigns.
Campaign finance laws and court decisions have combined to make non-candidate committees more attractive to donors and more-effective in politics. Independent expenditure committees emerged from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. They can accept corporate contributions and contributions of any size but can’t work directly with campaigns
Other groups, including party committees, are considered political funds and can launch independent expenditure efforts and give directly to campaigns. While the direct donations are capped by state law at $1,000 for a legislative candidate and $4,000 for a candidate for governor, their independent expenditure efforts on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate aren’t limited.
Often money flows between committees in sometimes dizzying fashion, which can lead to double counting of funds. Still, the DFL and its supporting organization continue to far-outraise and outspend the GOP and its supporting groups. The DFL has developed a more-sophisticated network fueled with money from wealthy individuals as well as union political efforts. While the GOP has tried to catch up, there is still a large gap in resources.
The Minnesota DFL has raised $11.6 million in state-regulated accounts, while Republicans raised $1.2 million. The money comes from affiliated and associated political committees, legislative caucuses, national office-related associations like governors associations, unions and wealthy individuals and is spent for party organizers and for independent expenditures against rival candidates in battleground districts.
Both the DFL and GOP also have accounts regulated by the Federal Elections Commission, and records show the DFL has raised $6.7 million there to the GOP’s $1.9 million.
The DFL also has more cash on hand from both the state and federal accounts for the fall: $5 million to the GOP’s $168,000.
While the state GOP trails behind, its finances have improved since suffering from deficits over the last decade or more.
In addition, national organizations affiliated with Democratic governors, attorneys general and secretaries of state are spending money in Minnesota to defend their incumbents. A political action committee affiliated with the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, for example, has spent about $2.5 million in TV ad buys intended to boost the candidacy of Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon. And a new organization looking to defeat secretary of state candidates who deny the 2020 election results – iVote – has reserved $454,000 in TV time in the twin Cities market with ads aiding Simon already airing.
Reports posted this week by the state Campaign Finance Board cover the year up to Sept. 20. While that covers much of the money raised and spent so far, a final report is due Oct. 31.
Groups supporting DFL campaigns:
Alliance for a Better Minnesota – Anyone watching any television over the last month or more has likely seen ads criticizing Scott Jensen’s position on abortion. Those were paid for – so far at $8.94 million – by this major DFL-associated committee that is the prime spending group for the party this election. It is part of a network that includes funds that raise money like the 2022 Fund and Win Minnesota and funds that spend. For example, Alliance has received $4.68 million from the 2022 Fund and $1.65 million from WIN Minnesota. Because of its focus on boosting the Walz campaign, it has also gotten $3.62 million from the Democratic Governors Association in Washington, D.C.
The 2022 Fund – This DFL-associated fundraising committee changes its name every two years to reflect the current election year. It has raised $5.47 million and spent most of it by sending it to other committees. It sent $4.68 million to Alliance for a Better Minnesota and $1.1 million to the WIN Minnesota PAC. The money it raised came from state and national organizations and individuals: $1 million from Alida Messinger of Minnesota and $250,000 from Susan Mandel of Connecticut. It also received $1.36 million from the national organization State Victory Action and $900,000 from a separate arm of WIN Minnesota.
WIN Minnesota – This group has the same treasurer – top DFL finance professional Denise Cardinal – and the same St. Paul office address as the 2022 Fund. It collected money from the 2022 Fund and individuals such as John Graves of Excelsior at $100,000 and Vance Opperman of Minneapolis at $100,000, plus $350,000 from another arm of Win Minnesota in a different office suite in the same building. It sent $1.67 million to Alliance for a Better Minnesota and $500,000 to Planned Parenthood of Minnesota PAC.
Minnesota Family Prosperity Project – This new organization is affiliated with a national organization called the Sixteen Thirty Fund that gave $850,000 to a St. Paul organization called North Star Prosperity that is registered as a lobbyist organization. That organization, in turn, gave the same amount to the Minnesota Family Prosperity Project that has spent much of it to promote DFL candidates in swing districts across the state.
Planned Parenthood Minnesota Fund/Planned Parenthood of Minnesota PAC – The political action fund has raised $1.35 million with money coming from the national Planned Parenthood Votes at $650,000, WIN Minnesota at $500,000 and the affiliated action fund at $200,000. That PAC raised $457,000 including from Alida Messinger at $100,000, Darin Opperman at $95,000 and Karen Sternal of Minneapolis at $59,500. The action fund has conducted independent expenditure campaigns, primarily doorknocking for DFL efforts. The PAC has not recorded significant activity yet but has $850,000 cash on hand.
Climate Vote MN – This affiliate of the League of Conservation Voters has raised $683,000, mostly from that organization. It gave $50,000 to the 2022 Fund and has paid for some digital advertising against Jensen and in support of DFL candidates. It said this week it expected to spend more than $1 million to identify how candidates stand on climate change.
The PAC for Minnesota’s Future – This state PAC is affiliated with the national PAC for America’s Future that was formed to win Democratic majorities in state legislatures. The Minnesota affiliate has raised $2.28 million with $400,000 going to the House DFL campaign committee and $750,000 going to the Senate DFL campaign committee. Money came from Gideon Friedman of Brooklyn and Wendy Munger of Pasadena, California, who gave $1 million each.
Working America Minnesota – This AFL-CIO-affiliated effort sends campaign workers into districts to canvass non-union households. It has raised and spent $207,000 to hire, transport and house canvassers in swing legislative districts. In 2018 it had 65 canvassers working in the state.
Education Minnesota – The teachers union has spent $2.8 million so far this election with some going to pay for state and local organizing, some to direct donations to DFL candidates but the bulk going in large payments to the state DFL central committee ($900,000), and $500,000 each to the House DFL campaign and the Senate DFL campaign.
Other Unions – The DFL benefits by the person power and the fundraising ability of unions including the SEIU state council and SEIU Healthcare, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and the two large state employee groups AFSCME Council 5 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. They also use the money in similar ways by making some small direct contributions to candidates and some large contributions to DFL party organizations and DFL-associated committees. The SEIU state council, for example, gave $335,000 to the DFL state central committee and $460,000 to the 2022 fund. AFSCME Council 5 gave $383,000 to the state central committee and $150,000 each to DFL House and Senate campaigns. The nurses association gave to individual candidates plus $100,000 to WIN Minnesota.
Construction Unions – Unions in the construction trades such as the North Central States Carpenters PAC, the Operating Engineers and the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota tend to give more to the DFL but are more neutral in their politics. The Carpenters, for example, gave $108,500 to the House DFL but $40,000 to the House GOP; $45,000 to the Senate DFL and $77,500 to the Senate GOP. It gave $142,500 to the state DFL and $7,500 to the state GOP. The Operating Engineers gave to all four caucuses but devoted its largest gift to the Senate GOP. The Laborers gave much more to DFL committees but also donated to the GOP legislative campaigns.
Groups supporting GOP campaigns:
Minnesota Jobs Coalition – The jobs coalition is a state registered independent expenditure group that receives its money – $1.2 million so far – from the Republican State Leadership Committee. That Washington, D.C., political fund has the mission of raising national money and helping win state legislatures around the U.S. This will be the name on much of the political mail targeting DFL candidates in the coming weeks but at the time of the latest report, it had only spent in a few races, including to oppose two Republicans in contested primaries – Mark Bishofsky in House District 33a and Erik Mortensen in House District 54a. The coalition was unsuccessful in each primary.
Pro Jobs Majority – If labor unions form the foundation of DFL campaign funding, business does the same for Republicans. The Pro Jobs Majority is the political arm of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, getting $825,000 so far from that organization. It has given some money to other associated committees but will also be a significant funder of independent expenditure efforts to help GOP legislative candidates and weaken DFL opponents.
Coalition of Minnesota Businesses/Minnesota Business Partnership – Both are associated with the Minnesota Business Partnership which represents the state’s largest corporations. Charlie Weaver manages both funds that have raised $482,000 and $161,275 respectively, with spending so far going to GOP legislative candidates both in direct donations and independent expenditures. Most of its money was unspent at the time of this week’s report.
Advance Minnesota – This state committee run by former state Sen. Ted Daley receives most of its money from the national Republican committee called GOPAC, another committee aimed at funding state legislative races. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller is on the GOPAC advisory board. GOPAC gave $605,000 of Advance Minnesota’s reported receipts this year. Of the $1.1 million rolled over from 2021, $1.02 million came from GOPAC. It pays for independent expenditures efforts mainly to weaken DFL legislative candidates.
Housing First Fund – Representing the housing industry, this fund has raised $189,000 and is spending it on independent expenditure efforts to boost GOP legislative campaigns.
Freedom Club – This is the committee funded primarily by conservative GOP activist Robert Cummins who has donated millions to conservative causes and campaigns over the last two decades. His $350,000 contribution this year has been spent so far on independent expenditure efforts backing the GOP’s four statewide candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor.
Make Liberty Win – This state affiliate of a national group of the same name formed to elect conservative GOP legislators. It’s $159,500 from the national organization is being spent to benefit a handful of the most conservative candidates including Mark Bishovsky in House District 33b, Tom Dippel in Senate District 41 and Erik Mortensen in House District 54a.
Minnesota Future PAC – This relatively small PAC – $76,000 spent so far on independent expenditure efforts to help GOP legislative candidates – is chaired by retiring state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen. The bulk of its money came from Advance Minnesota.
Minnesota Action Network – Chaired by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, this independent expenditure committee has raised around $80,000 with the only expenditure so far an anti-Keith Ellison ad that was distributed with a $10,000 digital campaign.
MinnPost reporter Ana Radelat and associated editor Greta Kaul contributed to this report.