Liberal outside groups raise money for legislative campaigns

An early peek at the finances of a tight-knit group of liberal donors and political committees shows that fundraising and spending on a campaign to flip the Legislature in the DFL’s favor is already underway.

Groups expected to do a great deal of fundraising to win seats for Democratic lawmakers have together raised $1.3 million.

Leading spending on the effort to win the Legislature is the Alliance for a Better Minnesota Action Fund, a special fund set up by the Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM), which has raised $136,000 in cash since the start of the year, and has collected an additional $19,900 in in-kind contributions during the same period.

That’s compared to roughly $93,000 the group had collected in cash and in-kind contributions around this time in 2010, when ABM was gearing up to help elect a DFL governor.

ABM has already started spending the cash on a few legislative races it thinks Democrats can win, including mailers opposing Republicans Keith Downey, who is running in state Senate District 49 in Edina area, David Hancock, who is running in House District 2A in northwestern Minnesota, Ted Lillie, who is running in Senate District 53 in the east metro, and Doug Wardlow, who is running in House District 51B in Eagan.

ABM Executive Director Carrie Lucking said the early round of mailers focused on property tax increases, an issue that is at the core of ABM’s election-year messaging.

“Unlike a statewide race, this was a situation where we had the ability to point out some key votes in the Legislature that were very out of step with the values of certain legislator’s constituents, and we felt we needed to take that opportunity,” Lucking said.

All told, the ABM Action Fund has spent more than $51,500 on independent expenditures.

Most of the ABM Action Fund’s cash came from WIN Minnesota Action Fund, which collects substantial amounts from wealthy donors and, in the past, has given almost exclusively to the ABM Action Fund.

WIN Minnesota Action Fund reports bringing in more than $652,000 so far. By far the group’s top donor is Alida Messinger, who helped launch WIN Minnesota and is Gov. Mark Dayton’s ex-wife. This year, she’s given $500,000 to WIN Minnesota.

Messinger also gave $50,000 to the 2012 Fund, which two years ago also funneled much of its cash to the ABM Action Fund. Attorney Sam Heins, one of President Barack Obama’s top Minnesota fundraisers, also gave $50,000 to the 2012 Fund, as did investor Vance Opperman. So far, the group has raised a total of $695,000.

Meanwhile, there’s been less action so far among a constellation of business-backed political funds that supported Republican Tom Emmer’s campaign for governor in 2010, and that helped elect state lawmakers who back pro-business initiatives.

For instance, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund has raised $42,240 since the start of the year. Among its expenditures are a $10,000 to the state House Republican re-election fund and a $5,000 to the state Senate Republican re-election fund.

The Chamber’s Pro Jobs Majority fund, which collects dollars mostly from businesses, raised more than $94,000 so far this year and ended the reporting period with nearly $225,000 in cash. But so far, it hasn’t spent any of that money on specific candidates.

Another Chamber of Commerce fund that spent largely on legislative races in 2010 has raised more than $20,800 and has so far spent very little of that cash.

The Minnesota Business Partnership also played a significant role in the 2010 elections. The group’s political fund has raised $84,700 this year, in addition to the $121,204 it had in the bank Jan. 1. It’s spent $42,000 so far with $40,000 going to the House and Senate Republican re-election committees.

Minnesota Business Partnership Communications Director Mark Giga said it’s still early for his organization to be raising and spending lots of cash.

“I don’t think our inactivity or activity is any different than past election years as far as our political action committee goes,” he said. “People don’t really pay attention until after the State Fair.”

Noticeably absent from the money race so far is the Freedom Club, an organization started by prominent conservative donor Robert Cummins. In 2010, the group spent all its money on electing Republican lawmakers to the state Legislature, and Cummins contributed substantially to the effort.

This year, the Freedom Club has raised $3,000 on top of the more than $285,000 it had in the bank at the start of 2012. Its expenditures have been so far limited to nearly $9,000 consulting, accounting and legal fees.

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