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Dayton shines as fundraising star for legislative candidates

With high approval ratings, DFL candidates are asking for the governor’s help.

Not a born campaigner, Gov. Mark Dayton nevertheless is in demand this election season.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

Gov. Mark Dayton’s own campaign cupboard is a little bare, but this summer he’s raised thousands of dollars for the campaigns of fellow DFLers running for the Legislature. And there’s more to follow.

According to his political director, Julie Hottinger, Dayton has headlined eight events for the state House and Senate DFL caucus, six fundraising events for individual candidates, and has 40 fundraisers pending.

“Our requests have just picked up a ton in the last couple of days,” Hottinger said. “We’re working on what we can fit in.”  

Dayton says he’s all in. “I’ve got a lot at stake in terms of the outcome of the legislative races,” he said in an interview at the governor’s residence, explaining why he’s spending political capital on races other than his own. “What the last two years have given us is an impasse and lack of meaningful progress.”

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He said that Republicans have been forced to take such hard-positions that future legislative majorities will lead to gridlock. “We’ll be at loggerheads all the way through,” he said.

In demand

Not a born campaigner, Dayton nevertheless is in demand this election season. “I’ve told candidates I’ll do whatever helps them the most,” he chuckled. “I’ll campaign for them or I’ll campaign against them, whatever does the most good.”

While always popular among DFL activists, a recent poll gives Dayton an overall approval rating of 56 percent.

His popularity is a change from the 2010 election cycle, when many candidates shied away from a Dayton association, mainly because of his enthusiastic calls for an income tax increase among the state’s higher wage earners.

Hottinger says she’s heard of no similar apprehensions or concerns this year. “He’s a huge draw right now,” she said. “We are getting requests from all over the state, all sorts of legislative districts.”   

Dayton says the fundraising experience has exacerbated his frustration with the contribution limits imposed by campaign finance laws. State Senate and House candidates can received a maximum of $500 in individual contributions. The same limit applies to gubernatorial candidates in a non-election year.

“The limits are so absurdly low in this era of what it costs to have a campaign,” he said. “The limits haven’t been changed or indexed since 1994. Seems to me in this era, you should have reasonable limits with immediate disclosure of every dollar that goes in.”

Asked whether he’d endorse a bill to raise campaign contribution and spending limits, Dayton said now wasn’t the time to get specific, but “the Republicans are going to have the same problem, so there might be an interest in talking about that.”

Dayton restated his intention to run for re-election in 2014. At the moment, though, his campaign organization is spare, consisting only of political director Hottinger and a couple of interns. The most recent finance report for “Mark Dayton for a Better Minnesota” shows the campaign with a cash balance $46,000. He has not made a recent major fundraising push, to the chagrin of key supporters and advisers.

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MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
“Every time I’m about ready to send one [contribution request] out, the DFL or one of the caucuses asks me to send one out for them. I’ve been giving them the priority.”

“I’ve gotten serious pushback from some of my folks, like Tom Borman, my excellent finance chair, and others, for not having done more,” Dayton said. “Every time I’m about ready to send one [contribution request] out, the DFL or one of the caucuses asks me to send one out for them. I’ve been giving them the priority.”

Opposes amendments

Another priority are the proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. In a fundraising email, he describes them as “two terrible amendments to our Constitution, which would deny some Minnesota the equal right to marry legally the person they love and many others the right vote.”  Dayton has joined with the opposition groups to both amendments and headlined a major fundraiser for Minnesotans United for All Families, the umbrella group opposing the marriage amendment.

Dayton says he will focus on his own re-election campaign in good time. “Between Election Day and New Year’s, most sensible people are involved in the holidays,” he said. “Even activists need a little bit of a breather, but on January second, the bell rings and you’ve got 22 months to the election.” And in between, he points out, he is still the governor dealing with two more legislative sessions.

And he adds: “A year is a millennium in politics. Things are so volatile now, so subject to events that we can’t even see much, less control [developments].” That’s another reason, he said, that the only prize he is eyeing is the outcome in November 2012.