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Candidate fundraising disclosures in the gubernatorial race are not due until the end of this month, but some entrants just couldn’t wait to tell the public how much they received. Three Republican candidates have released their totals so far, and Gov. Mark Dayton has preemptively hinted at his own total, giving some indication of the shape of the race at the onset of the election year.

Honour leads GOP governor fundraising

Businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour reported his campaign raised $500,000 in 2013, the most reported so far by any Republican candidate. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)I have the skills required to really lead the state in a dynamic way.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour reported his campaign raised $500,000 in 2013, the most reported so far by any Republican candidate. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)I have the skills required to really lead the state in a dynamic way.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Zellers, Seifert haven’t yet released figures 

Candidate fundraising disclosures in the gubernatorial race are not due until the end of this month, but some entrants just couldn’t wait to tell the public how much they received. Three Republican candidates have released their totals so far, and Gov. Mark Dayton has preemptively hinted at his own total, giving some indication of the shape of the race at the onset of the election year.

Dayton’s 2013 figure is expected to be the largest haul of all: In late December, the incumbent told the Associated Press his campaign expected to have raised about $1 million during the past year.

That figure is double the $500,000 raised by businessman and Republican candidate Scott Honour, whose number is, in turn, roughly double the $240,000 raised by Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Johnson, meanwhile, managed to raise twice as much as Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who issued a statement saying he had collected $120,000 through the New Year’s Eve deadline.

The remaining top-tier GOP candidates, Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and former House minority leader Marty Seifert, have yet to go public with their own results.

Honour’s relatively high number was a surprise, at least to some, especially given the campaign’s claim that the independently wealthy former private equity manager said he had raised all of that money from “individual donors.” Asked directly whether Honour had given any of his own money to the campaign, spokeswoman Valentina Weiss said only that Honour plans to release details “when the report is out.”

Honour’s total surprises

Former political operative Michael Brodkorb said Honour’s announced figure is an impressive one, especially because donors sometimes shy away from candidates capable of self-funding.

“People generally don’t like to give to the rich person,” said Brodkorb, who observed that Dayton ran into similar problems during his first campaign.

Honour’s strategy in reaching donors was to go the professional route. In May, he announced that Shanna Woodbury had joined his team as finance director. Woodbury’s extensive fundraising background includes work for Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy.

Republican consultant Ben Golnik said he would be curious to see Honour’s “burn rate,” or the amount of money his campaign has spent in order to raise its current total. In the cases of Johnson and Zellers, both candidates are taking advantage of the political contribution refund (PCR) program, which allows donors to claim a $50 tax refund when they give in excess of that amount; the PCR agreement also imposes a $5 million spending limit on campaigns.

“Based on the [campaign] mail I get — and I get a lot — Zellers is most aggressively using the PCR,” Golnik said.

Both Golnik and Brodkorb think Zellers should be expected to post totals in the same neighborhood as Honour, at least, especially since both candidates are virtually assured of continuing past the endorsement process to a primary election. As a former House speaker, Zellers has deep connections with conservative donors, and used those relationships to put together a campaign finance team committee of major GOP donors like Stanley Hubbard of Hubbard Broadcasting and Pawn America CEO Brad Rixmann.

Because Zellers did poorly in a recent GOP straw poll — placing fourth, with 7.6 percent, well behind Johnson’s first-place 35 percent — he still has to prove himself to Republican activists in some way, said Brodkorb. Announcing a big bankroll would bring Zellers back into the discussion.

“Zellers has aligned himself with the who’s-who of Republican politics,” Brodkorb said, “so he has to do well at raising money.”

Seifert’s late entry

The timing of the deadline is likely to hurt Seifert, who did not join the Republican field until late November. That entry date is a particularly hard one to overcome, as donors typically become less generous in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when other spending priorities take hold.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said both Zellers and Seifert should hope to have reached a figure that approaches Johnson’s $240,000 mark.

“I think they’ve got to have raised multiple hundreds [of thousands of dollars],” Schier said. “If both these former leaders don’t come in with substantial money …  that will be a significant sign.”

Though the trio of candidates chose to release their collection figures, none was quite forthcoming enough to disclose how much their campaigns were holding in cash on hand. While those numbers probably will not be released until after the Jan. 31 filing deadline, the next two weeks will at least demonstrate where each candidate’s spending priorities lie.

Republican Party precinct caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 4, and will grant local party units the chance to give voice to their preference among candidates for elective office. Johnson and Thompson, who have pledged to abide by the party endorsement, will be expected to spend money now, and again before the endorsing convention in late May.

Also likely to invest in those contests is Seifert: Though he has not pledged to abide by the endorsement, the former legislator performed well at the GOP straw poll, despite the fact that he was not even a candidate at that point.

Schier thinks delegates will probably seek ideological loyalty among a Republican candidate, but said a healthy bank account can also boost one’s rating among the savvier GOP activists.

“The question is whether money’s going to translate into support in the caucuses,” Schier said. “But on electability alone, money’s a necessary issue.”

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