Disgusted by politics, Bill Cooper steps back a bit from political giving

Bill Cooper hasn’t been shy about his political beliefs. The CEO of TCF Bank has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes. He’s the former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and has helped finance the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota and The Freedom Club.

But now, Cooper isn’t as excited about giving to Republican causes.

“I’ve become more and more disgusted with the process,” Cooper told MPR News.

His comments are bit jaw-dropping considering Cooper gave more $700,000 to the MNGOP, the Republican National Committee and other state Republican parties between 1994 and 2006. Some of those checks were for $100,000 or $200,000 a pop. But campaign finance records show that while Cooper still donates to individual candidates, he hasn’t given to a political party since 2006, .

“The whole process bothers me,” Cooper said. “We can’t balance the budget here in Minnesota. Even though the (state) constitution requires it, we don’t do it. We can’t balance the budget in Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans. I’m frankly fed up with the whole process. I’m probably more of a libertarian than a Republican these days.”

Cooper still gives to GOP candidates, however. He’s given nearly $10,000 to GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and her leadership Political Action Committee in 2011 and $5,000 to former MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s federal PAC. Cooper’s bank, TCF Bank, was a major donor in the 2010 cycle. TCF Bank gave $250,000 to The State Fund for Economic Growth. That committee donated the money to MN Forward, which worked to get Republican Tom Emmer elected governor, and the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

Cooper has also donated to Democrats over the past few years. He gave $1,000 to DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2009, $1,000 to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD, in 2010 and $500 to Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, in 2011.

MPR News first contacted Cooper to discuss the Republican Party of Minnesota’s finance problems. He said he didn’t know enough to discuss the situation, but speaking as a former party chair who inherited a debt back in the 1990s, Cooper said it’s harder to raise money to pay off loans than to support candidates.

  • I’m glad to see that Mr. Cooper has admitted the system needs fixing. Thank you for continuing to show strong bi-partisan support for individual candidates, and thank you for acknowledging that bought-and-sold party politics gridlock prevents meaningful legislation from moving this state forward.

    (Though, I will still gladly accept his generous and personal contribution to our party of true fiscal conservativism.)

    Sally Paulsen


    Independence Party of Minnesota

  • Ralph Crammedin

    “I’ve become more and more disgusted with the process,” Cooper told MPR News.

    You gotta admire Cooper’s chutzpah. Tony Sutton blows up the Republican Party balance sheet, over a period of years, and Cooper is shocked, shocked, with “the whole process.”

    Does MPR remember it was Cooper who hand-picked Sutton to run both the Minnesota GOP, starting directly under Cooper in 1997, and a chain of taco houses for which Cooper was the financial sugar daddy?

    Why, Tom, does your piece not even mention the incredibly close Cooper-Sutton connection, which encompassed 14 years of political and business partnership before starting to crack up this spring? Tony’s name hasn’t even come off the corporate marketing yet. http://www.franchising.com/bajasol/

    And, while it’s good that you tracked the money trail from Cooper > TCF > TSFEG > MN Forward > Emmer, did it not occur to you to ask the rather obvious question of whether Cooper’s recalcitrance to directly fund the now-embarrassing GOP was dictated mainly by the recent availability of this sort of back-door cash laundry, which has been made legally almost unlimited by the Citizens United decision?

    And there’s the matter of Mr Cooper’s residence. When he says, “We can’t balance the budget here in Minnesota,” he’s being a bit disingenuous. Bill Cooper became a Florida resident, as a tax dodge, years ago.

    Tom, if you’re going to bring Mr Cooper into the discussion of the MN GOP financial mess, as you should, he needs a much harder look than he got in this friendly little conversation.

  • Alida Opperman Kaplan

    If your a republican, what is the incentive to give this year? The next $2 MILLION goes to pay off old debts. Even if they manage to raise all that, there wont be any left over to help candidates or any of the other things parties claim to do.

    Basically, they’re a poorly managed charity, and Bill Cooper is wise to not throw good money after bad down the MN-GOP toilet.

  • Carolyn Kaehr

    Another intelligent member of the community. Thanks for sharing.