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Pro-business Minnesota Jobs Coalition dumped $140,000 into Minneapolis campaign before city election

The involvement of the conservative pro-business PAC in Minneapolis city elections had become a major talking point of progressive activists in the months and weeks leading up to the voting. 

Minneapolis Works mailings were among those from candidates and other political organizations that filled the mailboxes of voters during the 2017 election.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include information on Minneapolis mayoral candidates.

The pro-business political committee Minnesota Jobs Coalition dumped $140,000 into a Minneapolis fund set up to elect a more business-friendly City Council, but it did so too late to be included in pre-election campaign finance reports.

The specter of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition — a statewide conservative pro-business PAC  — influencing city elections had been raised by activists in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day. But because the funding didn’t show up in pre-election campaign finance reports, the level of its involvement was left open to speculation.

Before the election, the founders of Minneapolis Works had invited donors to give either to the new committee or to Minnesota Jobs Coalition, yet no money from the Jobs Coalition showed up in campaign finance disclosures as of late October. It wasn’t until year-end reports were finally filed this week that the public was able to see that money from the Jobs Coalition did flow into Minneapolis Works, though only after the last reporting deadline of 2017 so as not to become a campaign issue.

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The donations more than doubled the amounts raised by Minneapolis Works in the final pre-election disclosure report. After reporting just $112,000 in donations as of Oct. 24 — $60,000 of which came from national Democratic funder James Lawrence — Minneapolis Works raised another $162,000 between that date and the end of the year. In fact, $152,000 was received between Nov. 1 and Nov. 13, the weeks straddling the Nov. 6 election. In addition to the $140,000 from the Jobs Coalition, Minneapolis Works received $10,000 from developer Kelly Doran, $10,000 from Minneapolis developer George Sherman and $1,500 from the political committee of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

As it turned out, only two of the incumbents backed by Minneapolis Works survived a challenge from their political left. Council Member Kevin Reich and Council Member Lisa Goodman were re-elected while Council Members Barbara Johnson, Blong Yang and John Quincy were defeated. Minneapolis Works also backed Tim Bildsoe in the race for an open seat in Ward 3, which was won by Stephen Fletcher. In that race, the committee spent heavily against Socialist Alternative candidate Ginger Jentzen, who finished second. It also backed a challenger to incumbent Council Member Alondra Cano in Ward 9, but Cano was re-elected.

In solicitations for contributions, Minneapolis Works founders wrote that “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.” A later request for money from developer and former city council member Steve Minn was more direct: “You are in the crosshairs of the progressive title (sic) wave.”

Local progressive organizations, led by TakeAction Minnesota, tried to raise concerns about outside business money coming into the Minneapolis election. Because the Jobs Coalition has in the past received money from national conservative funders the Koch Brothers, TakeAction alleged that they were trying to buy the City Council. The Jobs Coalition is already a target of progressive groups because it was active in helping turn the state Legislature over to the Republicans. Ironically, one of its strategies was to link Democrats from Greater Minnesota to Minneapolis DFLers.

Yet because of the weaknesses of Minnesota’s financial disclosure rules — especially at the city level — there was no evidence of any Jobs Coalition funding before the election. And the report filed this week only shows that the Jobs Coalition’s Legislative Fund gave money, not who the original source of that money was.

The Jobs Coalition is required to file an annual report, which was due to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board on Tuesday. It has not yet been received and therefore has not yet been posted on the state campaign finance website. Donors who gave to the Jobs Coalition intending their money to be used by Minneapolis Works could show up on that state report.

The late infusion of money was spent consistent with the way Minneapolis Works had spent its early money. Campaign mail was designed by the St. Paul-based consultant 1858 Group, which is owned by Mark Drake, the former head of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. It was printed Schmidt Printing of Byron. And an Austin, Texas, firm was used as a political consultant.

The campaign also paid $2,625 to Minneapolis public disclosure advocate Tony Webster for photographs he had taken. Webster, however, said Thursday that the photos were used without his permission and that he condemns the types of negative mailings used by Minneapolis Works.

“I took this photo of Annoyed Kevin Reich and I’m more irritated that it’s pixelated af than that the PAC stole it without credit,” Webster tweeted in October.

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Hear Our Voices

The Jobs Coalition contributed money to one other committee involved in city elections. It gave $15,000 to Hear Our Voices, which had formed earlier in 2017 with $25,000 from Lawrence and his wife Mary G. Lawrence, both of whom also donated to Jacob Frey’s mayoral campaign. Hear Our Voices’ initial pot of money was used to contract with four political consultants in February and March, though it was unclear what the consultants did for the committee.

Hear Our Voices did not show additional activity until it’s pre-general election campaign finance report was filed well after the November election. That report showed that it received the $15,000 from the Jobs Coalition as well as $8,000 from Richard E. Engebretson of Minneapolis. The report also showed that $9,000 was spent to hire two of the consultants who had worked for the committee earlier in the year. As of Friday, the Hear Our Voices had not yet filed it’s 2017 annual report.

Mayor money

Wednesday was the deadline for city candidates to make their final 2017 reports, which updated candidates’ fundraising and spending since the end of the last reporting period, Oct. 24.

New Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey ended his campaign by raising a total of $776,401, including loaning his campaign $40,000. Former Mayor Betsy Hodges ended up raising $438,632, including her own loan of $103,700. She also ended the year with $27,631 in outstanding unpaid bills.

Tom Hoch was the campaign fundraising leader for the mayoral campaign though that was largely because of loans he made to his campaign. He raised $957,681, but he also reported loans that have not been repaid of $597,833. Raymond Dehn had filed with the county but it had not been posted by elections officials. His campaign, however, provided the report which shows he raised $125,017 and loaned his campaign $19,000. The campaign has unpaid bills totally $17,000.

The report for the other major candidate – Nekima Levy-Pounds — had not been posted by Hennepin County as of Friday morning.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct an earlier misstatement about Minneapolis Works. It was not founded by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.