They know where you live, what you like to read and the sites you visit when you’re on the computer. And they’re out to influence your vote in the Minnesota legislative elections.
They are the team that works for A Better Legislature, the campaign arm of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota. Just like ABM did in its efforts to elect Mark Dayton governor in 2010, A Better Legislature will spend millions to elect DFLers to the Minnesota Legislature.
This time, though, the macro campaign themes of education, property taxes and health care are being delivered to a micro audience of voters based on their legislative districts and areas of interest.
“Our goal is to reach the maximum amount of voters with the minimum amount of cost.” said Carrie Lucking, ABM executive director.
Geo-targeting — finding a voter based on where he lives, works or plays — is fast becoming a campaign staple.
In 2010, Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign used geo-targeting to send mobile ads to cell phone users who were within a few miles’ radius of the Minnesota State Fair. During the Republican state convention in St. Cloud, A Better Legislature bought online banner ad space criticial of Republican state Sen. John Pederson on the St. Cloud Times website.
But the Better Legislature effort refines the target event further. The campaign’s online ad vendor mines data to determine not just a voter’s geography but also interests based on Internet patterns.
I would be a prime candidate for an ad from A Better Legislature, Lucking explained, because not only do I live in a legislative district that the campaign is targeting but also because I’m interested in local politics. That’s why, when doing research for a MinnPost story on legislative redistricting, I encountered an ad criticizing the record of Republican St. Rep. Keith Downey, now running for the Senate seat in Bloomington and Edina.
Downey, Pederson, Doug Wardlow of Eagan and King Banaian of St. Cloud are just a few of the Republican legislators in the ABL cross hairs. Lucking declined to be more specific but indicated there are more to come.
“Our ultimate goal is to win back the Legislature, and we’ll target the number of races necessary to do that,” she said. The Republican-DFL legislative split is 37 to 30 in the Senate and 72 to 61 with one vacancy in the House.
Downey grants the Better Legislature efforts grudging respect. “It is hard to say that Alliance for a Better Minnesota hasn’t effectively worked the system to maximum political advantage,” he said. “If you look at the big money — Alliance for a Better Minnesota — they are honest. They are going to spend millions to influence those races.”
Downey and Senate colleague Dave Thompson tried to organize a counter-group to ABM. But the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board shot down their group, Prosperity Minnesota, because state law prohibits a candidate from controlling an outside campaign committee.
“Bottom line, the campaign finance system is biased against elected officials, and we’re the ones who are accountable to voters,” Downey said.
Downey and other like-minded candidates will likely get some kind of support from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and its independent expenditure group, Pro Jobs Majority. But the question is whether the group will have the funding and the campaign savvy of A Better Legislature.
“I will tell you that because it’s a new PAC, what we are doing is raising our profile and letting people know that it’s available,” said Laura Bordelon, the chamber’s senior vice president.
It’s not unusual for independent campaign groups to spend spring and summer getting organized and then unleash the hounds closer to Election Day. But the forces behind A Better Legislature see no need to wait.
“ABM has a long tradition of working early,” Lucking said. “In 2010, the gubernatorial effort started in the summer, way before other similar efforts.”
In certain legislative races, mainly in safe districts, an individual campaign can be waged with effective use of social media and websites and support from the political caucus. But in this election cycle, with new candidates, open seats, and both the Minnesota House and Senate up for election, outside campaign groups will be important as never before.
A Better Legislature and Alliance for a Better Minnesota are not the only independent expenditure operations to recognize this. But they are the first to get their foot in the door and enter via your computer at home or office.