Political groups focus cash on select state races

The liberal Alliance for a Better Minnesota and a constellation of groups backed by Minnesota businesses are playing an important role in this year’s legislative races, spending widely on various candidates throughout the state.

But some of the state’s closest races are getting more attention than others, and the proof is in the dollars.

Take, for instance, Republican state Sen. Ted Lillie’s race against Susan Kent in Senate District 53 near Woodbury. Outside groups have so far spent $55,000 there.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which is hoping to snag that seat for a Democrat, has so far spent nearly $13,000 on direct mail criticizing Lillie.

But Lillie is also getting an assist from groups that support conservatives, including the Freedom Club, a political fund that was created by wealthy donor Robert Cummins. The Freedom Club played a critical role in filling the state Legislature with Republicans in 2010.

So far, the Freedom Club has spent more than $13,000 on mailers touting Lillie’s accomplishments.

That’s on top of the nearly $29,000 the Pro Jobs Majority fund, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce group that backs candidates with a pro-business record, has spent on direct mail supporting Lillie.

The race between Lillie and Kent is a competitive open seat that was created as a result of the once a decade process known as redistricting. Lillie elected to move into the new district after he was paired with GOP Sen. Ray Vandeveer, who eventually announced that he wasn’t running again.

Candidates were not required to file their fundraising activity today. The last round of fundraising reports in July shows Lillie raising more than $15,000 and Kent with more than $17,000. While these outside political groups can’t coordinate with the candidates, their spending on mailers and advertisements gives each candidate an extra boost.

Meanwhile, a race in northwestern Minnesota is also garnering attention from outside groups. Republican Rep. David Hancock’s race against DFLer Roger Erickson in House District 2A, which includes Lake of the Woods, has seen more than $15,000 spent on the race through late September.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota has spent nearly $13,000 through Sept. 25 with the hopes of electing Erickson. The Coalition of Minnesota Businesses PAC spent $3,700 in support of Hancock.

Republican Sen. Ted Daley is getting a boost from some of the same groups in his race against former state lawmaker Jim Carlson in Senate District 51 near Eagan.

Combined, the Freedom Club and Pro Jobs Majority have spent nearly $43,000 on mail favoring Daley. Meanwhile, the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses has been sending out fliers touting Daley’s vote to pay back money the state owes public schools.

In 2010, Daley’s race was close, too. He narrowly beat Carlson by 3.6 percentage points. It appears outside groups have not spent any money on Carlson’s behalf through Sept. 25.

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