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Hey, big spender: how Minnesota Republicans want to be just like Minnesota Democrats

For the third consecutive election cycle, Minnesota Republicans are lamenting the absence of a political action group to rival the well-financed, DFL-aligned outside group Alliance for a Better Minnesota.  

They may be try to plug that gap with the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, an organization that helped put Republicans in the majority in the Minnesota House — and that is now trying to put itself forward as the natural GOP counterweight to ABM. But the question still remains whether any GOP-aligned outside group can create and maintain coalitions with the efficiency and effectiveness of its progressive counterpart.    

“I think the Minnesota Jobs Coalition is well positioned to be the lead the group on the right,” said founder Ben Golnik. “I believe more strongly than ever now, we need a year round group to hold the Democrats accountable.” 

Golnik and his team of video trackers, who’d been following Gov. Mark Dayton during the 2014 legislative session, switched to individual legislators this summer. They hit DFL legislative candidates hard and fast, unfettered by a concern of working with legislators in the upcoming session.

Trackers followed DFL legislators Shannon Savick and Andrew Falk, catching Savick incorrectly denying she had voted for a new Senate office building and Falk appearing to run away from a question on his vote for MNsure.  

Savick and Falk lost their races, as did DFL state representative John Ward, against whom the Minnesota Jobs Coaltion ran radio ads.  

Groups like the Leadership Fund and Pro-Jobs Majority, affiliated with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, also weighed in on targeted legislative races, but stayed out of the governor’s race.  

“The business groups—the problem is that they are going to they have to lobby the same legislators they are running ads against,” Golnik said.  No one affiliated with the Jobs Coalition is a registered lobbyist. 

“Our business groups in Minnesota tend to be more flexible in their ideology,” said State senator Dave Thompson of Lakeville, a one-time Republican candidate for governor.  “They aren’t as likely to launch a full-throated attack as ABM did against [Republican candidate for governor] Jeff Johnson.” 

Ben Golnik
MinnPost photo by Brian HallidayBen Golnik

And did it ever. Of the $4.8 million that ABM had amassed as of the end of the October, more than two million dollars was spent to define Johnson as a Tea Party Republican who would roll back progress and reform.   

And of the $4.8 million, $3 million came from the WIN Political Action Fund, which got the bulk of its contributions from the political arms of unions like Education Minnesota, AFSCME, IBEW, MAPE, and the Nurses Association. 

Thompson, who has authored anti-union legislation, believes that conservatives can’t replicate the ABM model. “Here the DFL has a cash machine – the unions and union dues,” he said. 

But the assumption that ABM held and will continue to hold a huge funding advantage is “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Pat Shortridge, former chair of the Minnesota Republican party.  “We were sending Mike [McFadden, GOP U.S. Senate candidate] and Jeff out there without any cover. We can’t wait for some national group to come along to bail us out.”

Golnik couldn’t agree more.  He said the Jobs Coalition is preparing a detailed post-mortem that will go to like-minded groups and individuals.  “We made a lot of progress,” he said. “We now have to track this to show to donors and others We have the best return on investment on the center right.” 

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 11/12/2014 - 10:14 am.

    Union Money

    The money from unions are not dues. They are voluntary contributions from members. Dues cannot be used for political purposes.

  2. Submitted by Mike Downing on 11/12/2014 - 11:36 am.

    Level playing field

    We need a level playing field in MN political spending. The 3:1 to 5:1 spending of DFL vs GOP is the reason for the DFL success in state wide offices.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/12/2014 - 05:24 pm.

      The reason

      You don’t think it could have anything to do with the Republicans running weak candidates ,or having a message that resonated only with rural voters, do you?

      • Submitted by Mike Downing on 11/12/2014 - 06:49 pm.

        Good candidates cannot overcome being overspent 3:1 or 5:1…

        The 3:1 and 5:1 spending ratio spoke loudly to MN low information voters. These are the same low information voters that the MIT professor call stupid voters when he drafted the “opaque” ACA bill, aka Obamacare.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/13/2014 - 10:04 am.

          Nice use of unrelated snark

          It sounds like you agree with the characterization of voters as “stupid,” so I don’t get your point.

      • Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/13/2014 - 05:29 am.

        Strategy was – rile up the outstate people

        The return on investment is obvious there.

        Its getting a little pathetic when the party that is all for the Citizens United model
        complains about being outspent. Everybody knows that is disingenuous complaining.

        Did it resonate? Or did it poison the well?
        Bottom line outcome was the same, this time around.

  3. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/12/2014 - 01:46 pm.

    We have insufficient information about money in politics.

    Corruption equals dollars divided by donors.

    We can have no adequate idea of which political action committees (PACs) to worry about most unless we know both how many dollars each represents, and how many donors each represents. We need to know which PAC represents the most donors per dollar and threatens democracy the least, and we need to know which PAC represents the most dollars per donor and threatens democracy the most.

    Without this knowledge, we cannot accurately estimate the comparative disproportionality of influence exercised by the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, the WIN Political Action Fund, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, the Leadership Fund, and the Pro-Jobs Majority, or any other big-spending PAC or PAC-like entity.

    I would favor a law that would require all paying sponsors of widely published or broadcast advertisements to identify themselves by name, and that would require each ad to display within itself the number of sponsors it has. A full list of donors’ names should be made immediately available to any citizen upon request, so that we, the people, would have the right to know who exactly is spending so much money to influence us. Surely this law would make journalists’ work easier, and it would make the public much better informed.

    The current system, under which a small number of wealthy donors can easily exercise tremendous influence over politicians with complete anonymity, by funneling their money through specially designed and often misleadingly named PACs, keeps us citizens completely in the dark. (How can we trust a PAC that calls itself a “Majority,” but doesn’t let us know how many donors it represents?) It is a system that only the mafia can love.

  4. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 11/12/2014 - 02:04 pm.

    Is it the right or center-right?

    “I think the Minnesota Jobs Coalition is well positioned to be the lead the group on the right,” said founder Ben Golnik.

    I’m sure Ben Golnik would like to think so. The more successful the group is at raising money, the more he can skim off the top for his salary. I’m sure Norm Coleman is paying himself a nice salary for collecting and disbursing shady money too. Nice work if you can get it.

    Then Ben goes from associating his group with “the right” to calling it “center right.” I don’t think there’s any center about it. All aspects of the right have moved so far to the right as to be undetectable without special scientific equipment.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/12/2014 - 07:02 pm.

    My thanks, again

    …to RB Holbrook.

  6. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 11/12/2014 - 11:08 pm.


    I am disgusted with the amount of money being spent by outside interests on campaigns. Especially while there are so many people who have nothing. Money corrupts !!!

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/13/2014 - 08:47 am.

    Where are we?

    One of the difficulties with moving forward is that it’s hard to do that unless we know where we are. During the campaign, there was a substantial amount of concern, even paranoia about the role of A Better Minnesota. From where I sat, I thought the money spent by ABM was largely wasted, that it was the pet action group of Mark Dayton, fighting a race that had already been won, while neglecting and even harming the DFL candidates who were at risk. ABM was unable to do what Republican groups were able to do so effectively, downshift from the statewide races which were already decided, to the legislative races where the real fight turned out to be. The result looks to me, like a fairly definitive Republican victory. That’s because Republicans, unlike Democrats, realized that under our current political structure, there is little point in Democrats winning the governor’s race, if they don’t win both houses of the legislature. The result, at least over the next two years, will be the enactment of a largely Republican agenda.

    If ABM is to continue as a factor in Minnesota politics, it needs ask itself some tough political questions. It needs to stop being an organization that caters to the ego of political dilettante, and it needs to start being a tough political organization, willing to make difficult choices, and be willing to respond to politics not the way it would like it be, but to the way it is.

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