At least three races for seats in the Minnesota Legislature burst through the $1 million barrier in 2016, a year that saw spending by parties and outside groups swamp the amount candidates themselves mustered.
Preliminary figures show that so-called independent expenditures, which candidates can’t have any say in, reached nearly $21 million. That’s based on reports filed by Tuesday’s deadline and made public Wednesday, with some data still missing. Candidates spent about $11.6 million.
The three contests to exceed $1 million — unheard of not long ago — were: Sen. Paul Anderson’s victory over DFLer Deb Calvert for an open Minnetonka-area seat ($1,089,770); Rep. Jim Knoblach’s victory in a rematch with the DFL’s Zachary Dorholt in St. Cloud ($1,032,344); and a Burnsville/Lakeville contest that Republican Rep. Roz Peterson won over DFL newcomer Lindsey Port ($1,000,210). Three other races were on the cusp, when both candidate and outside group spending are added up.
It puts a punctuation mark on what was an expensive and brutal fight for control of the Legislature, which Republicans gained in full in November by expanding their House majority and flipping Senate power. The millions fed television ads, radio spots and mail pieces as well as paid door-to-door canvassers.
Eight of the 10 most-expensive races in the House and Senate were won by Republicans, including a half-dozen where their candidate flipped a DFL-held seat.
The totals are only part of the picture because some groups operate under a section of the tax code that allows them to make contact with voters but does not require them to disclose their spending to state regulators. There were numerous examples around the state of the voter awareness campaigns that don’t explicitly advocate for a candidate’s election or defeat.
For spending that was reported through the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, DFL-aligned groups were some of the biggest spenders. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, for instance, put more than $6.6 million into efforts to aid DFL candidates. On the Republican end, the business-backed Northstar Leadership Fund spent $1.3 million and the conservative Freedom Club State PAC added $1.6 million to the mix.
The House and Senate DFL caucuses outspent their GOP counterparts, although the Senate GOP used the Minnesota Action Network, an outside group, to launch many of its broadsides.
Here is a list of outside spending in key races, as analyzed by MPR News using data available early Wednesday with the campaign board.