Updated at 3:30 p.m. with Bakk comment
The practice of legislative leaders helping bulk up the campaign spending accounts of obscure county and district parties was detailed Wednesday in a MPR News report.
But there was one slight bend in the money stream that didn’t get attention. In 2016, the favored local account of Minnesota’s top DFL senator switched.
For many years, Cook Sen. Tom Bakk’s golf fundraiser and other efforts were geared toward assisting the 3rd District Senate DFL with its fundraising. MPR News documented more than $170,000 in lobbyist and political action committee money since 2011 that had flowed through that district account. It was largely fed back out to DFL senators or hopefuls in competitive races.
This year, however, the 3rd District donations dropped to their lowest point in years — a mere $4,500 through late October. Instead, the Koochiching County DFL saw a boom in campaign donations, with its contributions climbing from $8,250 in 2015 to about $43,000 this year and much higher than the last Senate election cycle. The county fund spent $32,000 of it on large checks to DFL candidates in key races.
Bakk said he’s come to see the Koochiching County DFL Party as “incredibly organized as a party unit” so he decided to help them out with fundraising. Local party chairman Joseph Boyle said he’s known Bakk since before he was in the Legislature and has closely followed his career.
Boyle, a lawyer in the far northern Minnesota county, said it wasn’t unusual for money to come in from throughout the state because the county had formerly been home to DFL House Speaker Irv Anderson.
Asked whether Bakk helped drive up fundraising, Boyle said, “You’d have to ask him.”
“More money came in and so more money went out to statewide people because people statewide gave us money because that’s what they’re entitled to do,” Boyle said. “We sent money out to every race that we thought would make a difference.”
Boyle said a four-member committee determines where it goes and Bakk isn’t involved.
“I’m very impressed by their organization and how active they are and I want to help them,” Bakk said.
Don Fosnacht, the 3rd Senate District DFL chairman, offered a possible explanation for the shift in a phone call Thursday that was in response to a message left the week before. Fosnacht was elected to his post in June, replacing the incumbent chairman. He said he simply didn’t have a prior relationship with Bakk and that might not have provided enough comfort to the senator.
Fosnacht said he wasn’t intimately involved in the past fundraising activity in the 3rd District. He said decisions on how to spend the money have been and will continue to be left to an executive board.
“The key thing there is to make sure it is used for party purposes,” Fosnacht said.
It’s unclear whether the big money will swing back from Koochiching to the 3rd Senate District DFL for coming elections.
“We’ll see what happens with the long-term on that,” Fosnacht said.