There’s a new super PAC in Minnesota and it only has one purpose: the re-election of Rep. Collin Peterson.
After many trying and failing for many cycles, Republicans have signaled that they may make another expensive play for Peterson’s district — Minnesota’s 7th — in 2020. And that seems to have worried executives at American Crystal Sugar enough to create The Committee for Stronger Rural Communities; a super PAC that will only focus on re-electing Peterson this cycle.
A representative for the committee said that it has already raised more than $300,000, with an initial contribution of $150,000 from the American Crystal Sugar Company, the large agricultural cooperative based in Moorhead. And they said that the super PAC intends to raise more.
Legally, super PACs are barred from coordinating directly with any campaign — so they cannot talk to Peterson’s campaign about strategy in the way that a regular PAC could. And instead of donating directly to a candidate, as a PAC would, super PACs must spend their money independently. But as long as they steer clear of that, they have few limitations and can spend unlimited amounts of money on the congressional race.
“It’s not every day that executives from one of the largest companies in a lawmaker’s district form a super PAC designed to boost that politician’s re-election chances,” said Michael Beckel, Manager of Research, Investigations and Policy Analysis Issue One.
Brian Ingulsrud, the vice president of agriculture at American Crystal Sugar, is the treasurer for the committee. Dan Mott, the secretary and general counsel of the company, is the second person listed on the super PAC’s statement of organization.
“Times are tough on America’s farms and in rural communities right now. We desperately need leaders in Congress who understand agriculture, the importance of rural development, and how to support Main Street,” Kelly Erickson, the steering committee lead for the PAC, said in statement to MinnPost. “Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson embodies that kind of leadership, and rural communities from coast to coast are depending on him to be re-elected.”
Peterson is currently the chair of the House Agriculture Committee. And he has been referred to as the “godfather” of the sugar beet industry, having spent close to three decades protecting the crops in Washington. Peterson has pushed programs that benefit the industry — and his district — like the “sugar-to-ethanol” program in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Minnesota is the leading producer of sugar beets in the United States. And American Crystal Sugar is one of the most powerful organizations in Minnesota politics when it comes to campaign contributions. Of companies and groups in Minnesota that spent on federal candidates, American Crystal Sugar has been the No. 1 in-state spender since 2004, according to Open Secrets. For example, in 2018, the company’s PAC, employees, and executives collectively spent $2,650,300 on federal races and slightly more than $2.5 million on federal lobbying. They have also been Peterson’s second largest contributor over the last 30 years, providing him with over $134,000.
Outside of the new super PAC, American Crystal Sugar has an official PAC that can coordinate directly with candidates, but has contribution limits. Many donors to that PAC are employees of American Crystal Sugar, but also sugar beet farmers. Peterson is a farmer himself, planting crops like canola, corn, soybeans, and of course, sugar beets.
“There’s been no one more important to us than Collin Peterson,” Kevin Price, vice president of government affairs at Crystal Sugar, told Bloomberg in 2014. In that same story, Peterson said that when he suggested quitting, “the sugar guys went ballistic,” he said. “There’s still work to be done.”
If the race is a repeat of 2014, in which conservative groups and Republicans spent over $3.5 million to try to elect former state Sen. Torrey Westrom to Peterson’s seat, the super PAC could be a critical player, potentially infusing the race with large amounts of cash in support of Peterson.
The House Republican campaign arm, run by the Sixth District’s Rep. Tom Emmer, put Peterson on its list of Democrats to target in 2020. The Minnesota Republican Party said it hosted its annual convention in Peterson’s district as a sign that it intends to try again. And earlier this year, the NRCC’s Midwest spokesperson, Carly Atchison, suggested Peterson intended to retire — to which Peterson said Republicans are “dreaming.”
Correction: A previous version of this story listed executive Brian Ingulsrud as the vice president of administration at American Crystal Sugar. He was previously vice president of administration. His current title is vice president of agriculture.