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Meet the Minnesota political groups spending big on the 2020 election

The most recent reports filed by Minnesota political committees show activity — both money raised and money spent — through Sept. 15.

Minnesota political groups

The most recent reports filed by Minnesota political committees reveal that the biggest spenders so far in the 2020 election are familiar names. For Republicans, it’s groups associated with business; for the DFL, it’s organized labor.

Minnesota campaign finance law results in a complex web of entities that spend on political campaigns. Some are independent expenditure groups, a classification that came out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision: They can accept corporate contributions but can’t work directly with campaigns. Other groups, including party committees, are called political funds and can both launch independent campaigns and work directly with candidates.

Many of the groups give money to each other — and sometimes give money back again  — making following the money even more challenging.

The most recent reports, filed last week, show activity — both money raised and spent — through Sept. 15. While that covers the Minnesota primary, it does not capture most spending for the general election. That information won’t be known until Oct. 26, when a pre-general election report is due, and that will only cover transactions before Oct. 19.

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Minnesota law caps at $1,000 how much a donor can give a candidate for state House or Senate. And campaigns that accept state subsidies agree to limit how much they can spend on their own campaigns. 

But donations to independent expenditure committees and political funds have no caps. And an independent expenditure committee can spend unlimited amounts helping a candidate or hurting their opponent as long as it doesn’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. In 2018, for example, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition spent $147,000 in a Minnesota House election in Blaine’s District 37B to attack DFLer Amir Malik and help incumbent Republican Nolan West hold on to the seat. (West was successful in that effort, but both he and Malik are on the ballot again this year.)

A note on the links contained in these summaries: Each goes to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board page for the committee. To see the latest report, click on “reports and data” and then “2020 September Report.”

GROUPS SUPPORTING THE GOP

MN Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund
This business-oriented independent expenditure group is one of the primary efforts to boost Republicans and take down DFLers in the state. So far, it has collected $67,000 but has raised much more in past campaigns — and should this year as well. As in past years, money has come from an affiliated group called the Pro Jobs Majority and from the national Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, D.C. Ironically, its only primary spending was to try to help former state Rep. Bob Loonan beat Erik Mortensen in a contested GOP primary in Shakopee, and to defeat GOP Rep. Jeremy Munson in southern Minnesota’s District 23B. Loonan lost, but Munson won.

Pro Jobs Majority
This independent expenditure committee is affiliated with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and raises money to both give to other committees (like the Jobs Coalition and Advance Minnesota) and to launch its own independent efforts to boost GOP candidates. It has raised $435,000 so far.

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Coalition of Minnesota Businesses/Minnesota Business Partnership PAC
Both of these groups are associated with the Minnesota Business Partnership, the organization representing the state’s largest companies. Charlie Weaver is the executive director of the partnership and is registered as the chair and treasurer of both campaign committees. The Coalition is an independent expenditure committee that has $486,000 on hand while the Business Partnership PAC has $164,000. The Business Partnership PAC gives some money to the DFL caucuses, but it gives much-larger amounts to the GOP caucus committees. The Coalition has not yet spent significantly on 2020 campaigns. 

Advance Minnesota
Advance Minnesota is an independent expenditure committee that has raised $564,000 affiliated with national GOP organizations. Of that money raised, $420,000 came from GOPAC, a 40-year-old group founded to boost Republicans at the state and local levels, and $144,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Advance Minnesota has already spent more than $85,000 to boost GOP campaigns and attack DFLers in state Senate races. 

Housing First Fund
Housing First Fund is an independent expenditure committee associated with the home building industry, with contributions coming from contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of building materials. It has $186,000 on hand so far but in 2018 it spent more than $1 million, mostly on independent expenditures to help GOP legislative candidates.

Freedom Club/Action 4 Liberty
Both of these committees are associated with conservative donors and activists Bob and Joan Cummins and support very conservative candidates. In 2018, for example, they formed Minnesotans for Bold Reform that helped Jeff Johnson defeat Tim Pawlenty for the GOP nomination for governor. Freedom Club PAC is a political fund that has so far raised $193,000, with $87,000 left over from last year. It spent some of that helping Erik Mortensen and Jeremy Munson win GOP primaries. Action 4 Liberty is another political fund that has so far had limited activity but did give $1,000 to Republican Marianne Stebbens, who lost a primary to Andrew Meyers in House District 33B, which includes Chanhassen and several communities around Lake Minnetonka. 

Right Now Minnesota
This new independent expenditure committee has raised $115,000 from eight individual contributors but so far has only spent $4,500 to help Julia Coleman win a contested GOP primary for the open Senate seat in District 47, which covers the exurbs southwest of Minneapolis. 

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Make Liberty Win
A niche independent expenditure committee, Make Liberty Win is funded by a national organization of the same name based in Alexandria, Virginia. It has endorsed and supported 250 “liberty defending” candidates, three in Minnesota. All $94,000 received from the national group was used to help Rep. Jeremy Munson in House District 23B and candidates Erik Mortensen in 55A and Marianne Stebbins in 33B. Munson and Mortensen both won their primaries.

GROUPS SUPPORTING THE DFL

Alliance for a Better Minnesota
ABM is an independent expenditure group that’s one of a trio of Democratic campaign committees that work closely to raise and distribute money for DFLers and to influence races. As of the latest report, ABM had raised $2.45 million — all from the two others’ funds — and spent all but $413,000 of it. ABM spends money directly on campaigns with mailings and digital ads that support DFL candidates, and their targets are a good barometer of the year’s battleground legislative districts. For example, the fund has already spent $22,000 and $23,000 on behalf of DFL challengers against two Rochester-area Republican incumbents. 

2020 Fund/WIN Minnesota
These are the two primary money-collecting independent expenditure committees for DFL campaigns, and both are managed by the same person: Denise Cardinal. The 2020 Fund has raised and spent $2.25 million so far, but its spending mostly consists of giving to other DFL funds: It gave $1.042 million to Alliance for a Better Minnesota and $957,000 to WIN Minnesota. WIN Minnesota, in turn, has raised $3.467 million and given almost all of it to either Alliance for a Better Minnesota ($1.4 million) or to the WIN Minnesota Federal Super PAC ($1.92 million). That too is run by Cardinal and has given most of its money to the Alliance for a Better Minnesota Federal PAC, which has spent heavily opposing the reelection of Donald Trump. Donors are  primarily labor unions — teachers, state workers, the state AFL-CIO, the SEIU — and a few wealthy individuals. Alida Messenger, a prominent donor to Democratic candidates and causes, has given $450,000 to the 2020 Fund, while another prominent donor, Vance Opperman, has given $100,000.

WIN Justice
WIN Justice is a new independent expenditure committee that filed with the state on Sept. 16 and will not show its first financial activity until the final reporting date of Oct. 26. According to its website, it is a coalition of four national groups intending to mobilize progressive voters in four states at a cost of $30 million. The groups are the Color of Change PAC, Community Change Action, Planned Parenthood Votes and the Service Employees International Union. The states are Minnesota, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin. In its state report, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota shows that it received $280,000 from WIN Justice’s federal PAC on Aug. 20. 

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Planned Parenthood Minnesota Fund
This independent expenditure committee is affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It has raised $480,000 but has not reported major spending on Minnesota campaigns so far.

Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund
Everytown for Gun Safety is the group that announced a $1 million effort to defeat five GOP incumbents in the state Senate — part of its campaign to pass gun safety legislation that was stopped by Minnesota’s Republican Senate majority. But because this independent expenditure committee did not start until after the Sept. 15 cutoff for this report, it has not yet filed a report of money raised and spent.

Climate Vote MN
This independent expenditure committee has raised $553,000 but reported that it hadn’t spent much as of the September filing deadline. The money came primarily from the League of Conservation Voters as well as individual contributions.

Education Minnesota PAC
This political fund is affiliated with the state teachers union, Education Minnesota, and receives all of its money in contributions from that group — about $1.4 million so far. It has made dozens of small contributions to individual DFL candidates totaling $44,550, as well as to some local union affiliates. It too has given large contributions to the DFL caucus committees, the state party and WIN Minnesota. This committee has also begun independent expenditures efforts to help DFL candidates in battleground districts.

Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota Political Fund
This is the political fund of the Minnesota and North Dakota district council of the Laborers’ International Union, LIUNA: It raised just more than $1 million from district council, and its spending so far has been large contributions to the DFL House Caucus campaign committee, the DFL Senate Caucus campaign committee and to the state DFL Central Committee. It has also given $175,000 to the 2020 Fund. 

Minnesota AFL-CIO
The Minnesota AFL-CIO political fund is associated with the statewide organization representing AFL-CIO affiliated unions. It has raised $927,000, and, like the Laborers, has given most of its money to the DFL caucuses and state party, with $50,000 also going to WIN Minnesota.

SEIU State Council/SEIU Healthcare
This political fund is affiliated with the Service Employees’ state council and has raised $2.37 million and — following the practice of other unions — has given it to DFL caucus committees, the state party and to a large DFL-associated committee, this time via the 2020 Fund. Another SEIU local representing health care workers has a separate committee.

Minnesota Association of Professional Employees
This is the political fund for one of the largest state worker unions, MAPE. Like other union groups, this fund gives to the DFL caucuses and state party as well as to WIN Minnesota. It has raised and spent $436,000.