2014 Minnesota campaign cost at least $28 million

Between money spent by the parties, political groups and the two major candidates for governor, Minnesota’s 2014 campaign cost at least $28 million.

That figure is based on final fundraising reports from last year’s election available today through the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. It includes at least $15.6 million in independent expenditures – money that parties and political groups spend on things like ads and campaign fliers – to boost or attack certain candidates.

By and large, independent expenditures focused on candidates running for the Minnesota House, not the high-profile gubernatorial race between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Jeff Johnson.

But even though some groups raised a lot – and spent a lot – it doesn’t mean those dollars were invested wisely. Here’s our breakdown of the winners and losers of 2014’s campaign money race.

Winners:

  • The Republican State Leadership Committee: This Washington, D.C.-based group invested heavily in trying to help Minnesota Republicans win back control of the state House, donating $355,000 to the Minnesota Jobs Coalition to spend on GOP House candidates. And while Republicans they supported in suburban areas of the state mostly lost, candidates in greater Minnesota won – giving the GOP the majority in the House.
  • The Minnesota Jobs Coalition: This group was among many conservative organizations that backed Republican House candidates. But what set it apart from the pack was its close work with the RSLC, serving as the primary conduit for the group’s money. Unlike the state Republican Party and other GOP groups, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition spent most of its money targeting candidates for the Minnesota House. After fine-tuning its messaging and microtargeting strategies early in the year, the group also invested its cash in races that were considered a long shot early in the election, forcing Democrats to match that investment. And in a few cases, including House District 17A near Murdock, where DFL incumbent Andrew Falk lost to Republican Tim Miller, the investment paid off.
  • The Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the Minnesota DFL: The DFL state party and the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a group dedicated to putting Democrats in office, spent $3 million and $1 million respectively on ads and campaign materials meant to help Gov. Mark Dayton get re-elected. In the end, Dayton won by nearly 6 percentage points with their assistance. ABM raised $5.2 million in 2014, while the DFL raised nearly $7.8 million for the gubernatorial, House and other state races.
  • The Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee and House Speaker Kurt Daudt: All told, the HRCC raised $2 million and spent about $470,000 on a slate of House seats last year. It didn’t win all of them – particularly in districts surrounding the Twin Cities – but it secured 10 seats in greater Minnesota, giving Republicans an edge in the Minnesota House. That’s in no small part due to early and aggressive fundraising by now House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown, who played a key role in persuading GOP donors that the Minnesota House was their best shot at having a say in the 2015 agenda.
  • Gov. Mark Dayton: All told, Dayton raised about $3 million in 2014 and spent about as much on his re-election bid. That’s a cheap campaign compared to the $4.6 million Dayton spent in 2010 during his first campaign for governor.

 Losers:

  • Jeff Johnson: Johnson’s Republican gubernatorial bid was troubled from the start. In a wide field of Republican candidates, Johnson won the GOP endorsement after several ballots and still had to compete in a primary. Johnson says the protracted campaign hurt his and the Republican Party’s ability to raise money. All told, Johnson raised nearly $2.3 million to Dayton’s $3 million in 2014. And he spent about as much. But in the end, Johnson still lost to Dayton by nearly 6 percentage points. At least Johnson is coming out of the campaign debt free.
  • The Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the Minnesota DFL Party: Sure, the DFL Party and its allies helped put Dayton in the governor’s mansion for a second term, and both groups spent money on other statewide races as well, including Sen. Al Franken’s successful campaign against Republican Mike McFadden. But they were less successful winning key seats in the Minnesota House – even though the groups spent more than $1.5 million and $1.8 million on those down ballot races, respectively. The DFL ended the year with more than $126,000 in its state account. But it is also carrying debt of nearly $30,000 in its state account and more than $550,000 of debt in its federal account.
  • The Minnesota Republican Party: There’s not a lot of good news coming out of the 2014 elections for the Minnesota Republican Party. It is more than $450,000 in debt, still has plenty of bills to pay, and has almost nothing left in its checking account. While it looks like the party spent a lot of money on House races, a lot of that cash was essentially funneled to the party from the House Republican Campaign Committee for administrative reasons. All told, the Minnesota Republican Party spent $446,000 to help Johnson beat Dayton (that figure doesn’t include money the party spent to operate new campaign offices around the state). But despite that investment, the party’s candidate lost, as did others running in statewide elections.
  • DFL House Caucus: The caucus raised at least $4.2 million in 2014, and it spent nearly $1 million on a slew of House races. Nevertheless, the caucus lost its majority in the Minnesota House.