State Rep. Connie Doepke, R-Orono, is pushing back against a mail campaign paid for by an outside spending group that typically supports candidates on her side of the aisle.
In a letter to Freedom Club founder Robert Cummins, Doepke, who is running in a GOP Primary in Senate District 33, says that her opponent and others have been spreading misinformation about her record on “right-to-work” legislation that would have made unions voluntary.
She’s concerned that the Freedom Club’s support of her GOP-endorsed primary opponent David Osmek, who also supports right-to-work legislation, hinged on that misinformation. Right-to-work legislation has been a top issue for the Freedom Club and, reportedly, for Cummins.
“I’ve been distressed that my opponent and others have distorted my vote and record on this issue, and especially in this past session when we came so close to putting this issue on the ballot,” Doepke quoted from a letter she wrote Cummins on July 17.
Doepke says her support for right-to-work is clear, pointing to a letter Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a chief proponent of the bill, wrote thanking her for her support on the issue.
Doepke said that Cummins is one of her constituents and that he has been supportive of her campaigns in the past. The Freedom Club has also donated to Doepke in the past
But this time around, the Freedom Club, which is backed by wealthy Republican donors including Cummins, who is the organization’s most generous financial benefactor, has been sending mailers to voters in Doepke’s district near Lake Minnetonka targeting her spending record and praising Osmek .
“Connie Doepke voted to waste our tax dollars in Latin America for tropical bird habitats,” says one mail piece sent by the group.
“Politicians like Connie Doepke’s fiscally irresponsible leadership and wasteful spending is pushing out state and nation to the brink,” the mailer goes on.
The same message is echoed on a website also set up by the Freedom Club.
But Doepke says those accusations aren’t true, and so does retiring Sen. Gen Olson, the Republican both Doepke and Osmek are vying to replace this fall.
Olson, who has endorsed Doepke, came to her defense in an opinion piece posted on Doepke’s website.
“Residents of the new Senate District #33 have received two literature pieces recently trashing Connie Doepke for wasteful spending of your tax dollars on tropical birds,” Olson wrote. “They have been generated and paid for by the Freedom Club PAC with money given by business people for whom I have had great respect. These allegations, however, are not the truth.”
Doepke voted in favor of the environment, energy and natural resources funding bill, which included a provision that allowed the DNR Commissioner to set aside money to improve habitat in Costa Rica for Minnesota songbirds, Olson wrote. That money comes from the Non-game Wildlife Fund, which Minnesota taxpayers voluntarily contribute to on their tax return. The check-off has been around since 1980, Olson explained.
For her part, Doepke is surprised by the amount of money the Freedom Club has so far spent on a primary race between two conservative candidates.
“I think that the unprecedented spending in a primary, this is amazing,” Doepke said.
According to a recent finance report, the Freedom Club has spent more than $7,000, roughly split between mailers in support of Osmek and in opposition to Doepke.
The group has also spent about $2,500 against Republican Rep. Steve Smith, who is running for re-election in House District 33B. Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers recently endorsed Smith’s opponent Cindy Pugh over Smith.