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Everything we know about the independent committees trying to influence Minneapolis’ 2017 elections

Under Minnesota law, such committees can exist through the heart and heat of the election without having to provide much information about their contributors or their expenditures.  

“Friends of the Warehouse District,” registered Oct. 16, is supporting Tom Hoch for mayor of Minneapolis; Tim Bildsoe for the Ward 3 city council seat being vacated by Jacob Frey; and Blong Yang for reelection in Ward 5.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

It isn’t exactly easy tracing the activities of all the political committees trying to influence the 2017 Minneapolis city elections.

Part of that is the nature of the committees. They operate independently of the candidates, which means they are allowed to help or hurt whomever they want. But a bigger part is due to the reporting requirements set in Minnesota law.

The committees are required to register with Hennepin County within two weeks of when they get or spend more than $100. But depending on timing, most can exist through the heart and heat of the election without having to provide much information at all about their contributors or expenditures. In fact, if they register after the August reporting deadline they can raise and spend money without any disclosure to the public until the next reporting deadline, on Oct. 31.

Worse, a committee that wanted to act without any public disclosure before the election simply has to register in the last week of October, after the pre-general election reporting period ends, which means they would not have to reveal contributions or expenditures until the next reporting deadline — on Jan, 31, 2018. Nor are the penalties for filing late especially onerous. Committees that fail to file a report within seven days after receiving a notice are subject to a late filing fee: $5 per day, “not to exceed $100.”

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Making it all even more complicated: Political committees already registered with the state taking part in city elections report their activities to the state, not the county. 

So here’s a look at what we do know so far about the independent expenditure committees trying to influence the outcome of the 2017 Minneapolis city election: 

Minneapolis Works!
“Minneapolis Works!” was registered with Hennepin County in June with Matthew Perry as chair and treasurer. Perry was a council candidate from Ward 13, which includes the city’s southwest corner, in 2013. He is now the president of the Southwest Minneapolis Business Association.

Unlike many of the new committees that registered after the pre-primary reporting deadline, Minneapolis Works had a handful of donations on its pre-primary report. The fund was seeded with $10,000 from developers Steve and Lucille Brown Minn; $1,000 from the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s political action committee; $500 from downtown council president Steve Cramer and $500 from Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce president Jonathan Weinhagen.

An email invitation to a fundraising breakfast held Oct. 11 said the committee was formed “to serve as a vehicle for the city’s business community to come together to have a meaningful impact on the 2017 elections contests.”

Organizers were concerned, the email continued, because “an already progressive council is being challenged from the much further left by candidates with limited experience concerning the issues that are central to the success of a city that works.”

Last week, Minn sent another, far less temperate email to possible donors who hadn’t contributed yet. “We don’t have you ‘IN’ with the effort yet…You are in the cross-hairs of the progressive title (sic) wave.” Minn also wrote that the group had done polling, voter identification, and targeting — but that needed more money to “finish the job we have started.”

The organization has sent independent expenditure mailings on behalf of Council President Barbara Johnson in Ward 4, incumbents Kevin Reich in Ward 1, Lisa Goodman in Ward 7  and John Quincy in Ward 11 and open-seat contender Tim Bildsoe in Ward 3.

Save Our #1 Parks
“Save Our #1 Parks” was registered Sept. 26 and lists three current but outgoing Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board members as officers. Current Parks Board President Anita Tabb and Commissioner John Erwin are co-chairs, while Commissioner Liz Wielinski is treasurer.

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“We formed because we had some concerns with the existing slate of candidates,” Erwin said, referring to a slate of candidates pushed at the Minneapolis DFL convention by Our Revolution, a political group that emerged from the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Erwin said that the Our Revolution slate, which is all male, could disrupt the current board’s accomplishments, such as the 20-year parks maintenance program approved last year. (Devin Hogan, one of the Our Revolution endorsed candidates, is non binary and says Erwin’s statement that all of the endorsed candidates are male is not accurate.)  The #1 Parks group, which also has the support of three other current park board members, is backing its own slate of candidates in opposition to the Our Revolution slate, as well as at-large candidate Mike Derus and District 6 candidate Bob Fine. The group has also bought an insert in the Southwest Journal criticizing incumbent Brad Bourn, who is on the Our Revolution slate.

Let’s Do Better Minneapolis
“Let’s Do Better Minneapolis” registered on Aug. 8 with former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe listed as chair and attorney John Cairns as treasurer. Growe deferred to Cairns, a former Minneapolis council member, who said the group formed to promote the mayoral campaign of Tom Hoch. Cairns said fundraising has been modest so far and he doesn’t expect to send direct mail but will instead craft a social media campaign.

Minneapolis Forward
“Minneapolis Forward” registered August 28 and is chaired by Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. The treasurer is Felipe Illescas, director of outreach and policy campaigns for the SEIU. The committee does independent expenditure communications like direct mail for candidates endorsed by the union.

Hear Our Voices Political Committee
“Hear Our Voices Political Committee” was registered on Jan. 26, 2017 and lists Ahmed Hashim as chair and treasurer. The entire $25,000 the committee raised came from James A. and Mary G. Lawrence. James, a former chief financial officer for General Mills and Northwest Airlines, was a rumored candidate for Congress in 2013 after a poll was conducted among voters in Minnesota’s 3rd District, which covers the western Twin Cities suburbs and is currently held by GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. He and Mary Lawrence together contributed $2,000 to Jacob Frey’s mayoral campaign. The $25,000 they contributed to Hear Our Voices was paid to four men listed as consultants in February and March during the period preceding Minneapolis DFL precinct caucuses. They are Abdifatah Ahmed ($7,700), Ahmed Artan ($8,010), Mohamed Jama ($4,300) and Samakab Hussein ($4,982). Attempts to reach the committee’s chair, Ahmed Hashim, were unsuccessful.

Fresh Start Minneapolis
“Fresh Start Minneapolis” was registered on Aug. 31 and lists Del Jenkins as chair and Lawrence Wright as treasurer. Jenkins is the chair of the Stonewall DFL Caucus, the state Democrats’ LGBT caucus, which has financially supported and door-knocked for Frey and a slate of city council candidates.

Friends of the Warehouse District
“Friends of the Warehouse District” registered Oct. 16 and lists Jennifer Schellenberg as chair and Tim Mahoney as treasurer. Schellenberg is a bartender at Red Rabbit and Mahoney owns The Loon, both of which are located in the warehouse district. Both Schellenberg and Mahoney were also active in the unsuccessful efforts to include a tip credit in the Minneapolis minimum wage ordinance. According to the group’s Facebook page, they are supporting Hoch for mayor of Minneapolis; Tim Bildsoe for the Ward 3 city council seat being vacated by Frey; and Blong Yang for re-election in Ward 5.

Together Minneapolis
“Together Minneapolis” was formed with a $10,000 contribution from Minneapolis Firefighters Local 82, the city firefighters’ union, to conduct a poll one year ago on the mayoral election. Chipping in were developers Bob Lux and Tim Dixon (at $5,000 each) and a professor at the College of William and Mary named Ron Rapoport and his wife, Patricia Rapoport. Ron Rapoport was a mentor of Frey, who attended William and Mary. The committee’s last activity, according to the August report, came last December, when it paid the Maryland-based pollster.

Clarification: This story has been changed to reflect parks candidate Devin Hogan’s objection to mischaracterizatons of his gender as male and to correct the current job title for Felipe Illescas.