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Both sides now: The donors who gave big to Tim Walz … and to Jeff Johnson

For some kinds of donors, it can pay to play both sides.

Tim Walz, Jeff Johnson
Tim Walz and Jeff Johnson shown during a 2018 debate in Willmar.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

In the course of the governor’s race last year, at least 51 people and political groups made donations to both Republican candidate Jeff Johnson and his opponent, now-DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

To the average political observer, that might be something of a head-scratcher: aren’t most people who are into politics enough to donate to campaigns pretty firmly in either the Republican or the Democratic camp? And if you write a check to one politician aren’t you cancelling it out by writing a check to his or her opponent?

Not necessarily. Some of the people who are most into politics, in fact, donate to both sides. Sometimes even in the same race.

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Why play both sides

Backing both sides in a political race isn’t a terribly common phenomenon, but it’s not unheard of, either.

For people involved in politics, donating to political campaigns is a form of building relationships, said Todd Rapp, the president and CEO of Rapp Strategies, a consulting group.

“By donating you begin to build a relationship with the future political leader in Minnesota,” he said.

That can be a smart strategy.

With little exception for the last three decades, one party hasn’t been able to consolidate power between the Minnesota governor’s office, the House and the Senate. That means politics as usual in this state is divided government.

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“The people who are representing clients, no matter what their political philosophy is, they know at some point or another they’ve got to work with both Democrats and Republicans,” Rapp said.

And as for the governor’s race this year?

“The larger professional organizations or lobbying firms (know) that to get things done in Minnesota you need to find a way to work with both sides,” Rapp said. In the case of the governor’s race, he speculated groups that donated to both Johnson and Walz saw two quality candidates that they were familiar with and saw reasons to support.

Double-sided donors

Political committees associated with professional organizations, law firms, developers, medical groups and power companies, or the people who work for them, made up many of the 51 both-sides donors in Minnesota, according to data from year-end campaign finance reports released last week. Also among the double-sided donors were the CEO of Phantom Fireworks, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Vikings and the chairman of Borton Volvo.

Six people and groups maxed out, giving the $4,000, the legal max — to both candidates.

Those include Christopher Barnes, a vice president at Dominium, a multifamily housing developer and manager, Dorsey Political Fund, Faegre Baker Daniels political fund, the Great River Energy Action Team, Minnkota Power Action Committee and Optometry PAC, related to the Minnesota Optometric Association.

Top 10 both-sides donors and amounts donated:

DonorTo WalzTo Johnson
Christopher Barnes (Dominium)4,0004,000
Dorsey Political Fund4,0004,000
Faegre Baker Daniels political fund4,0004,000
Great River Energy Action Team4,0004,000
Minnkota Power Action Committee4,0004,000
Optometry PAC4,0004,000
Larkin Hoffman Political Fund2,0004,000
Mark Moorhouse (Dominium)3,0003,000
Pediatric Home Service PAC4,0001,500
Susan Wingert (Pediatric Home Services)3,0002,500

Barnes and Mark Moorhouse, senior vice president at Dominium, gave to both Johnson and Walz.

The Dominium Political Fund gave $4,000 to Walz and $1,000 to Johnson.

Owen Truesdell, a spokesperson for multifamily housing developer Dominium, told MinnPost in June that the company gives to both DFL and Republican candidates because affordable housing isn’t a partisan issue.

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“It’s crucial that the next governor of Minnesota understands the need for affordable housing and the best policy solutions to address the ongoing crisis,” he said. “We believe it is our responsibility to make sure candidates are learning from our experience on the ground.”

Minnkota Power Action Committee, a bipartisan fund formed and funded by the power company’s employees to donate to candidates in Minnesota and North Dakota, also hit the maximum for donations to both Johnson and Walz. Its board of directors is made up of Minnkota employees.

“The employees felt that both candidates have pragmatic records. They both demonstrated a willingness to listen and work with us on important issues,” wrote Ben Fladhammer, a spokesperson, in an email.

Several other both-sides donors MinnPost called didn’t return requests for comment.