There are three reasons why someone or some group wanting to influence an election would choose an independent expenditure committee over giving directly to candidates: there are no limits to how much can be contributed; you have more opportunity to control the message; if you go too far with a negative campaign, the candidates you support are insulated from any backlash.
All are good reasons to explain why so much of the 2018 campaigns for governor, attorney general and control of the state Legislature are flowing through independent committees. According to the latest reports with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board, which were released this week, $7.4 million has already been spent on the race for governor. Of that, $3.5 million has been spent for and against the survivors of the primary: DFLer Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson.
Here are the committees most likely to show up on TV, radio, social media, on your doorstep and in mailboxes between now election day.
MN Jobs Coalition
This business-oriented committee has $230,000 cash on hand that has come from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce-affiliated Pro Jobs Majority and from the Republican State Leadership Committee. What money it has spent so far has gone to help Republican House candidates in contested races around the state.
Pro Jobs Majority
This PAC has raised $1.24 million this year, nearly all from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and it has $591,000 on hand. Of the money it’s spent so far, $315,000 was spent to help Tim Pawlenty’s unsuccessful bid for governor. The rest has gone to help a batch of Republicans in targeted House races, and to help Republican Jeff Howe against Democrat Joe Perske in the winner-take-the-Senate special election in District 13, a race in which independent expenditure committees spent more than $238,000.
Housing First Fund
This PAC draws support from the home building industry, and has spent $273,500 in 2018 so far, with $94,000 going to help Pawlenty and the rest to support House Republican candidates.
Minnesotans for Bold Reform
This is one of three groups with substantial funding from Bob and Joan Cummins, conservative donors who support like-minded candidates. The organization spent much of its money over the summer helping Johnson upset Pawlenty. Its most talked about ad featured a woman unpacking groceries in her kitchen with the tagline “We need a new governor.” It has had no activity since the primary.
Freedom Club State PAC
This is another of the Cummins-supported PACs. It has raised $602,000 this year, $420,000 from Joan Cummins, and spent $202,000 of that. It has made contributions directly to state and legislative campaigns and also paid for independent expenditures to support Republican candidates for the House. It spent $39,000 to produce and air radio and internet ads against Walz for governor and got involved in House races in favor of Republican candidates, including the contested GOP House primary in 55A, supporting eventual winner Erik Mortensen against incumbent Bob Loonan.
Action 4 Liberty PAC
This is the third (and smallest) of the Cummins-backed PACs, with $30,000 of the $40,000 it’s raised so far from Bob Cummins. It has made direct donations to Johnson, Doug Wardlow and a handful of Republican House candidates. It also supported some independent expenditure mailings for Johnson, Wardlow and Republican Brad Ganzer, who is running in district 34A in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis.
MN Action Network
This committee, chaired by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, was set up in 2014 to support GOP candidates for state and legislative offices. During the primary it was behind efforts to support Pawlenty and has since begun a digital advertising campaign against Walz for governor. Its money so far this year has come from the state Senate Victory Fund ($100,000), former Target CEO Bob Ulrich ($100,000) and Mark Davis, of Davis Family Holdings ($100,000).
Coalition of Minnesota Businesses
This committee is affiliated with the Minnesota Business Partnership, a coalition of the state’s largest companies. It has raised $1.17 million this year and still has $787,000 on hand for the general election. The money was contributed by the Business Partnership ($500,000) and the Northstar Leadership Fund ($642,000). The latter is also affiliated with the Business Partnership (Charles Weaver is executive director of the Partnership and treasurer of the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, the Northstar Leadership Fund and the partnership’s own PAC.) While the Northstar fund has not received money this year, it did roll over cash from 2017 when the largest contribution, $500,000, came from the Minnesota Business Partnership.
The money the coalition has spent so far has been used to help House Republicans. It has already spent $64,000 to defeat DFLer Ami Wazlawik in her race for the open House 38B seat now held by Matt Dean, representing several east Metro suburbs. The coalition has also spent $71,000 against DFLer Erin Koegel in district 37A, representing Blaine, Coon Rapids and Spring Lake Park.
Alliance for a Better Minnesota
This is the largest DFL campaign committee; it spends the money it receives from a pair of other DFL-leaning committees — the 2018 Fund and the WIN Minnesota Victory Fund — to support DFL candidates and attack GOP ones. So far this year it has collected nearly $6.4 million and spent all but $57,000 of that, with $3.95 million spent in independent expenditures.
Among other things, ABM produced and aired a series of TV and digital ads that attacked Pawlenty before the primary, and have attacked Johnson since he defeated Pawlenty in the primary. According to this report, the total spent against Pawlenty was $2.51 million, while the total spent against Johnson so far is $1.37 million.
This is one of two money raising entities that work with Alliance for a Better Minnesota to fund independent campaign efforts on behalf of DFL candidates. The 2018 Fund reported that it has raised $3.96 million so far this year. Of that, it gave $3.04 million to ABM. Denise Cardinal is the treasurer of both the 2018 Fund and WIN Minnesota.
The money that has flowed into 2018 Fund so far has come from WIN Minnesota ($475,000); the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees national ($600,000); the state AFSCME Council 5 ($100,000); the Democratic Governors Association ($50,000); Education Minnesota ($50,000); the International Association of Fire Fighters PAC ($100,000); the Laborers District Council ($100,000); the state Nurses Association PAC ($50,000); liberal donor Alida Messinger ($50,000); the SEIU State Council ($400,000); and the State Victory Action Fund ($1.87 million) a national Democratic committee focusing on state races in swing states.
WIN Minnesota Political Action Fund
This is the second of ABM’s cash-raising arms, and it also receives some money from unions and union-affiliated PACs. It also gets heavy support from individual donors. For example, the PAC has received $1.15 million from Messinger, a Rockefeller heir; $125,000 from Steven Laufer of Chevy Chase, Maryland; $125,000 from Chani Laufer of Chevy Chase; and $100,000 from Vance Opperman, CEO of Key Investments which owns, among other entities, MSP Communications, publisher of Mpls.St.Paul and Twin Cities Business magazines.
From the money it raised, WIN Minnesota donated $3.19 million to Alliance for a Better Minnesota.
The report also shows another way that money is moved around among DFL-leaning committees. Of the $3.69 million raised by “WIN Minnesota PAC” this cycle, $1.5 million was contributed by “WIN Minnesota.” The two funds both have offices on University Avenue in St. Paul, though they are separated by one floor.
Other documents submitted to the state indicate that money also comes from the WIN Minnesota federal PAC, which is referred to in the report as the “State Engagement Fund” with a Washington, D.C. address. WIN Minnesota created a federal super PAC in 2013.
This is the PAC affiliated with the progressive activist organization TakeAction Minnesota. It has raised $147,000 so far this year and given $45,000 to the Minnesota DFL Central Committee. Three contributions made up nearly all of the money it raised: $100,000 from philanthropist Nicholas J. Pritzker of San Francisco; $25,000 from Laura Flynn of Minneapolis; and $20,000 from Barbara Wiener of Minneapolis.
Minnesota Victory PAC
This is a committee created to give independent support to the Walz for Governor campaign. It raised $786,000 and spent most of it leading up to the Aug. 14 primary, mostly on TV ads but it also commissioned a poll. It has had no activity since then but it is expected to be active in the general election.
The committee’s donors include both individuals and unions. James Lawrence, who has been a major donor to both national and state Democratic efforts, donated $60,000, as did William H. Walter, a commercial real estate investor. Jeffrey Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods, donated $50,000; Robert Pohlad, of the Pohlad Companies, gave $75,000.
Among the unions that contributed to the Minnesota Victory Fund are Education Minnesota ($115,000); Laborers District Council ($100,000); Minnesota Association of Professional Employees ($90,000); Minnesota Pipe Trades Association ($50,000); Local 49 Engineers ($25,000); Iron Workers 512 ($25,000); and Sheet Metal Workers PAC 10 ($15,000).
Planned Parenthood Minnesota Political Action Fund
This fund, affiliated with the abortion rights and women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, has raised $630,000, with $500,000 of that from other affiliated Planned Parenthood committees. It has begun spending its money two ways: paying for community outreach and canvassing ($154,000) and in independent expenditure efforts against Johnson and for Walz.
This independent expenditure committee was created to help Keith Ellison win the office of attorney general. During the primary campaign, it commissioned a poll that was posted on its webpage and spent $29,000 in pro-Ellison ads.
Since the primary, however, the committee has raised no additional funds but does indicate that it paid for a second poll, though those results have not been detailed on its webpage. People’s Lawyer has raised $202,000 in 2018, with only one donor having a Minnesota address. That would be Vance Opperman, who gave the committee $50,000. The other large donors are Stephen Silberstein, of Belvedere, CA, who gave $20,000; and Alexander Soros, of New York City, who gave $100,000. Soros is the son of billionaire investor and political activist George Soros, and has his own foundation. He also is deputy chair of the Open Society Foundations.
LIUNA (Laborers International Union) raised $300,000 from the Laborers Political League out of Chicago. Of that, $100,000 went to the pro-Walz Victory Fund. In addition to pro-Walz mailings, it also had independent expenditures for Ellison and for DFL House District 6B candidate David Lislegard in northern Minnesota.
The state labor organization’s political arm raised $857,000 and spent $761,000 of that. Most of the income came from the state AFL-CIO organization with a handful of affiliated unions also contributing. Some of the money was donated directly to state DFL party organizations and candidates, though the organization did spend $100,000 on an independent expenditure campaign in support of Walz. It also gave $400,000 to the Working America Minnesota committee, the labor organization’s community outreach affiliate that engages in contact with voters who aren’t union members, said AFL-CIO spokesperson Chris Shields.
Note: Data from handwritten campaign finance reports may not yet be entered in Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board spending totals.