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There’s a lot of money being spent on Minnesota Legislative races. Here’s who’s spending it — and where it’s going

The most recent reports show money raised and spent between September 15 and Oct. 19. 

Minnesota political groups

Want to know where the real battlegrounds for control of the Minnesota state Legislature are? Then do no more than abide by the cliche: follow the money.

And if you’re in a hurry, follow in particular the details from the state Campaign Finance Board filing from Everytown for Gun Safety. 

The newly registered political committee is an affiliate of the national gun safety organization founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the $436,000 it has received from that organization, all has gone to defeat five state Senate GOP incumbents who are key to Republican efforts to retain control of that chamber, though the amount is less than half of what the group announced a month ago that it would spend to make the Senate more amenable to the gun safety measures it supports.

Minnesota law recognizes two types of campaign financing committees. Some are independent expenditure groups, a classification that came out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, that can accept corporate contributions but can’t work directly with campaigns. Other groups, including party committees, are called political funds and can conduct independent campaigns and work directly with candidates. (The committees can give to each other as well, making it even more difficult to follow the funds.)

IE groups and political funds are the means by which supporters of the two parties collect and distribute money to finance campaigns. Some of that money flows to state parties or to the four political caucuses and to individual candidates. But even more is spent independently of those entities for electioneering to support — or more often attack — candidates on the ballot.

So why are these groups so central to campaign finance?

Minnesota law caps how much a donor can give a candidate for state House or Senate at $1,000. 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, as it doesn’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

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The most recent reports on independent expenditures, which cover the period between September 15 and Oct. 19 (but also include money received and spent prior to then), became available Tuesday. Any large contribution — more than $1,000 — received since Oct. 20 must be reported separately to the campaign finance board within 24 hours.

This analysis does not detail the activities of the six primary party controlled committees — the state DFL and GOP and the four political caucus campaign committees — other than to show which of the independent and political committees give to the parties and how much. As of the latest filing, the state DFL has raised $9.3 million, the House DFL caucus raised $4.5 million and the Senate DFL caucus has raised $5.6 million. The state GOP has raised $831,000, the House GOP caucus has raised $1.36 million and the Senate GOP caucus has raised $1.96 million. 

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 Pre-General Report.” 

Supporting the GOP

MN Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund

The Jobs Coalition is one of the several independent expenditure committees helping Republicans candidates for the Legislature, primarily House candidates, from a business-oriented agenda. It has shown limited activity this cycle, raising just $144,000, most from the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee. The Jobs Coalition received a 24-hour report contribution of $50,000 from the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses on Oct 21. In 2018, it spent $1.9 million.

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Pro Jobs Majority

This is an IE committee affiliated with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that has raised $765,000 this election cycle, all of it from the chamber. It is a classic IE committee, in that it has devoted most of its time and money on advertising campaigns against DFL candidates and for GOP candidates. For example, it reports spending more than $51,000 against DFLer Josiah Hill, who is challenging GOP incumbent Karin Housley in the east metro; and $62,000 against Jon Olson, who is challenging Sen. Rich Draheim in Senate District 20. 

Coalition of Minnesota Businesses/Minnesota Business Partnership PAC

Both of these organizations are affiliated with the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents the state’s largest companies. The Coalition has raised $585,000, most from the Business Partnership and the Housing First Fund, which it then gave to two other committees: Advance Minnesota and the Jobs Coalition. The Partnership PAC has raised $177,000, which it has given to candidates and the caucuses. Though it is technically bipartisan, the PAC’s donations are heavily weighted toward the GOP. For example, it gave $3,500 to the Senate DFL caucus and $85,000 to the Senate GOP caucus.   

Advance Minnesota

This is the most-prominent committee working on GOP legislative campaigns this cycle. It has raised $1.86 million, mostly from other large political committees, including $625,000 from the national GOPAC and $350,000 from the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses. It also received $600,000 from the Senate GOP caucus fund. Advance has in turn launched expensive campaigns against DFL incumbents such as Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent and first term Sen. Matt Little and against those challenging GOP incumbents such as Rita Albrecht in Senate District 5, Aleta Borrud in Senate District 26 and Lindsey Port in Senate District 56.

Housing First Fund

The Housing First Fund is what its name describes, an independent expenditure committee that is funded by the home building industry. It has raised nearly $190,000 this year but rolled $152,000 over from previous years. It has spent $202,000 on a handful of battleground races and gave $100,000 to the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses.

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Minnesota Realtors PAC/National Association of Realtors

This business PAC raises money from the industry and spends it on donations to campaigns and caucus for both state and local offices and of both parties. It raised just $221,000 this year but rolled over $939,000 from previous years. It’s report shows it still has $452,000 unspent. The National Association of Realtors has raised and spent $530,000, all on independent expenditures efforts to support incumbents of both parties.

Freedom Club

This PAC is associated with conservative donors Bob and Joan Cummins and has raised $680,000 on top of the $86,000 it had at the beginning of the year. It has collected another $26,000 in contributions made after the reporting period ended. It makes both direct contributions to GOP candidates and directs independent campaigns to support GOP candidates. Yet it also to attack DFLers, most notably a $57,000 campaign against Senate DFL leader Susan Kent.

Supporting the DFL

Alliance for a Better Minnesota

The DFL has so perfected a system of raising and spending money that the Republicans have tried to emulate it, without much success. Three different committees do the bulk of fundraising and campaign spending on behalf of DFL candidates. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota is the spending entity, getting money mostly from two other entities — the 2020 Fund and WIN Minnesota — and launching direct mail and advertising to help the DFL and hurt the GOP. How much? $6.1 million according to the latest report, plus another $1 million from the 2020 fund after the reporting period ended. These are large campaigns: $207,000 so far against GOP incumbent Sen. Warren Limmer and $101,000 in support of his DFL challenger Bonnie Westlin.

2020 Fund/WIN Minnesota

As the other two parts of the pro-DFL money triumvirate, the 2020 Fund and WIN Minnesota, are prolific funding-raising entities in Minnesota politics. The 2020 fund collects from both DFL-leaning unions and organizations and from wealthy individual donors. Education Minnesota has given $650,000, the SEIU $700,000, and Alida Messinger $750,000. WIN Minnesota collects from individuals (Messinger gave $700,000) and from national funders.

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WIN Justice

This is a recently formed independent expenditure committee that is a coalition of four national groups intent on mobilizing progressive voters in four states: Minnesota, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin. The coalition members are Color of Change PAC, Community Change Action, Planned Parenthood Votes and the Service Employees International Union. It adds partners in individual states such as UNIDOS We Win PAC. The state committee received $230,000 from Community Change Action before the reporting deadline and $75,000 after, which it spent on IE efforts in a handful of battleground races. 

Planned Parenthood of Minnesota Fund

This is the primary political action arm of Planned Parenthood. It has raised $1.3 million, including $383,000 from WIN Justice before the deadline and another $80,000 after. It has spent it on 33 House and Senate races to boost DFL candidacies.

Faith in Minnesota Fund

This is the political committee affiliated with the Faith in Minnesota, a coalition of progressive religious organizations. It has received $740,000, all from Faith in Minnesota, and has used it to hire nearly 100 canvassers who have run grassroots efforts to help DFL candidates. It calls the campaign a “relational voter program” that is focused on Black voters, Muslim voters and voters in Greater Minnesota in battleground districts.

Everytown for Gun Safety

This gun safety organization announced a $1 million mail and digital campaign to defeat five GOP incumbents as a way of winning the Senate for the DFL. So far, the organization has reported raising $436,000 and spending it all against Sens. Warren Limmer, Karin Housley, Jerry Relph, Carla Nelson and David Senjem. All of the money came from the national Everytown for Gun Safety organization created and funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Climate Vote MN

This is a new committee this election cycle has raised $638,000 so far with the bulk ($420,000) from the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C. but also from individuals. Money is being spent on independent expenditure campaigns exclusively in state Senate battleground races.

Labor Unions

Labor unions remain at the core of DFL fundraising efforts, with these six leading the way:

  • Education Minnesota PAC has raised $2.27 million so far, nearly all from the union and spent it on individual candidates and the state DFL, party caucuses and WIN Minnesota.
  • Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota Political Fund has raised $1.6 million and given it mostly to DFL candidates and committees but did give $30,000 to the Senate GOP caucus committee and a few GOP incumbents.
  • Minnesota AFL-CIO has $1.15 million raised and spent on DFL candidates, party committees and WIN Minnesota. 
  • SEIU State Council/SEIU Healthcare are affiliated committees of the Service Employees International Union. The state council fund has raised $2.37 million and the healthcare fund has raised $213,000 and rolled over $120,000 from last year.
  • Minnesota Association of Professional Employees is one of the two largest state worker unions, and its political fund raised $441,000 from members of the union.
  • AFSCME/AFSCME Council 5 People Fund are two political funds; the AFSCME political fund has raised $1.3 million and the People Fund raised $850,000 all from AFSCME Council 5, the largest state worker union in Minnesota.