Tony Sutton, chairman of the state Republican Party, was both on the attack and on the defensive today.
In attack mode, at a news event this morning, Sutton was demanding that gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton be more forthcoming with information regarding family trusts, which Sutton says are tucked away in such tax-havens as South Dakota, Grand Cayman and the British Virgin Islands.
Later, on defense, Sutton said he was not attacking the concept of wealth. In fact, he praised the Dayton family for creating the company that has led to the creation of so many jobs for Minnesotans.
“We don’t care where he keeps his money,” Sutton said of the DFL gubernatorial candidate, “except that he wants to tax people whose money is in Minnesota.”
Sutton buttressed his argument that Dayton needs to be forthcoming by showing a handful of videos of Dayton saying that if elected, he “will make the rich pay their fair share of taxes.”
He added: “Mark Dayton appears to be practicing the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy of the political elite. He wants everyone but himself to pay more.”
The Dayton campaign responded, at least in part, to the latest Republican criticism.
GOP information out of date, Dayton campaign says
“The Republican Party’s information is outdated,” Dayton spokeswoman Katherine Tinucci said in a statement. “The most current information regarding Mark Dayton’s financial holdings is contained in his Economic Interest Statement filed with the Campaign Finance Board earlier this year. According to Mark’s financial adviser, his father’s trust, of which Mark is currently a beneficiary, has no holdings in the Cayman Islands or British Virgin Islands. Furthermore, all income from the trust distributed to Mark is fully taxable in Minnesota.”
When asked by a reporter at a recent news conference about the family trust, Dayton had said that he had no control over it but that the arrangement was in the process of being changed. At that event, Dayton had said that the trust has been handled by his 92-year-old father but that the family is working on switching control of the trust to Bruce Dayton’s sons, including Mark.
This is thin ice for Sutton to be skating on, given information on Dayton’s income tax forms released last year. They showed him making a rather modest $172,475 and donating $26,883.(MinnPost was among donation recipients.)
Additionally, he’s never denied coming from a family of great wealth. Over the years, he’s often said that the wealth — stemming from his great-grandfather’s founding of the Dayton’s Department Store, which eventually begat Target — has been a motivator for his involvement in public service.
Neither of his opponents, Republican Tom Emmer, nor the Independence Party’s Tom Horner, has been even that forthcoming. To date, they have refused to release their most recent income tax information. Minnesotans know little of their overall financial status.
The issue of wealth has played a role in this entire election cycle.
Coming out of the DFL’s convention, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who won convention endorsement, frequently compared her “middle class” status with those of her millionaire opponents, Dayton and Matt Entenza. She was the first of the candidates to release income tax information, which showed that she and her husband had a combined income in the $140,000 range last year. (That income put her family in the top 10 percent of wage earners in the state.)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty often has cited his blue-collar roots — his father was a truck driver — as a sign of his empathy with middle-class Minnesotans.
Repeatedly, Sutton said personal wealth typically should not be an issue. But Dayton’s proposal to increase taxes on Minnesota’s wealthiest has made it relevant in this race.
Sutton says key issue is hypocrisy
“The issue is hypocrisy,” Sutton said.
Sutton said he believes that Dayton should “draw down the trust to pay the taxes he would have paid,” had the trust funds not have been sheltered in non-tax places. Sutton added that he did “not know the arrangement” of the trust or whether Dayton would have the legal power to draw down funds.
He does believe that the $172,000 in income Dayton reported last year is not indicative of the candidate’s wealth. He noted that Dayton has spent “millions” of his own money on his campaign for the Senate and during primary campaign.
“That $172,000 seemed a little odd,” Sutton said.
Dayton, it should be noted, has said that his general election campaign will be based on political contributions, not his personal wealth. His campaign manager, Dana Anderson, said on the night of the primary election that “the campaign is running on a very tight budget.”
Sutton called on Dayton to answer a series of questions, including:
• Have you ever asked your family members or the executor of your South Dakota trust funds whether you can divest?
• What tax benefits do you derive from your South Dakota trusts in comparison with the tax liability you would have were they in Minnesota?
• Would you be willing to gift to the state of Minnesota all monies you have been required to pay had your trusts been established in Minnesota?
Sutton said he would ask Emmer to disclose information about any South Dakota trusts that might benefit him.
Does Sutton have something against South Dakota? It is, after all, a low-tax state.
“Only problem with South Dakota is you have to live there,” Sutton said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.