DFL and GOP dollars flow to close contests
A negative mailing arrived in Republican state Senate candidate Dan Hall’s district last weekend that caught him by surprise.
“A friend of mine called me on Saturday and said: ‘They’re attacking your character,'” said Hall, who is running in the southern Twin Cities suburban District 40.
The front of the mail piece issued by the Minnesota DFL State Central Committee depicted a man in a clerical collar holding a Bible and wearing a campaign-style button with the words “IGNORE THE POOR.” The opposite side of the mailing shows a picture of Hall and proclaims: “Who in God’s name would deny health care for the poor?”
Hall, a pastor, has cried foul over the lit piece that insinuates Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent cuts to the general assistance medical care (GAMC) program for the poorest Minnesotans are in conflict with Christian ethics. Hall is challenging Sen. John Doll, DFL-Burnsville, in a district that was represented for 25 years by moderate Sen. Bill Belanger, R-Bloomington. Doll defeated Belanger in 2006 by a little less than 5 percentage points. As in the cases of many traditionally Republican seats won by Dems in recent cycles, DFLers are pulling out all the stops to protect Doll.
But Hall said he hadn’t seen much opposition from outside the district prior to this month’s “Priest” mailer.
Some Republican political pros observe the DFL and DFL-aligned groups have held their fire until very late in the campaign season this year. Similarly, the state Republican Party and legislative caucuses have only recently turned on the heat on DFL candidates. For this reason, the most recent campaign finance disclosure reports, which cover activity through October 18, fail to capture much if not most of the spending action over the campaign’s last two weeks.
But throughout the year DFL incumbents in competitive districts have weathered attacks by business-backed political action committees. The Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, which is affiliated with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, reported $264,000 in periodic independent expenditures against DFL legislators.
Rep. Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, who wrested a Republican-held seat in northwestern Minnesota’s District 1A, has seen mailings from the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses in May, August, September and October.
Olin is backed by the National Rifle Association and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. But business PACs and the GOP have hammered at Olin with mailers fueled with the usual campaign hyperbole. During a telephone interview this week, Olin described several attack pieces he’s collected during the campaign.
In one instance the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses sent an attack mailing that criticized Olin’s vote on the omnibus environment bill. The mailing highlighted a provision in the bill relating to habitat for migrating birds. That ad states: “Instead of allowing small businesses to create jobs, DAVE OLIN and his government allies voted for a blank check to pay for HABITATS FOR BIRDS IN THE CARIBBEAN.” The ad concludes: “DAVE OLIN…His priorities are for the birds.”
Olin said he voted for an amendment to strip the bird provision from the bill, which was unsuccessful. He ultimately voted in favor of the final bill. Olin expressed frustration that mailings criticize him for voting for sculptures in Minneapolis and other metro projects contained in the bonding bill. He notes the mailings fail to mention flood mitigation and other projects in the bonding bill that were important for his district.
“In greater Minnesota, anything you voted for that benefits Minneapolis and St. Paul – they attack it,” Olin said.
Among political action committees, business groups that are largely supporting Republicans have been at the forefront of independent spenders in legislative races.
Gregg Peppin, a Republican political strategist, said it appears many union and environmental PACs are directing their money at independent expenditure groups focused on the governor’s race.
“From what I’m hearing,” he said, “the unions aren’t really playing in the House and Senate side and they’ve dumped all their money in the governor’s race. That’s leaving a noticeable void” in legislative races.
This month the state Republican and DFL parties have moved into the void by launching attack ads in legislative races.
Out of the $1,986,655 that the DFL Party has dropped on independent expenditures, about $1.37 million has been spent on legislative races. The DFL has spent heavily on DFL legislative incumbents who are trying to hold onto competitive suburban and rural seats such as those held by Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, and Sen. Lisa Fobbe, DFL-Zimmerman.
The DFL paid for positive lit pieces earlier in the year and started mailing the bulk of its attack pieces this month. A spate of DFL attack mailers prepared by national political firm Gold Communications were paid for on Oct. 12.
The DFL Party’s role in spending on legislative races is important because it’s a major recipient of contributions from the House and Senate DFL caucuses. The House DFL has contributed $1.3 million of the $2 million it’s raised this year to the state party.
Similarly, the Minnesota Republican Party has released the bulk of its negative mailers this month. Out of $991,900 in independent expenditures by the state GOP, $367,000 was spent on legislative races.
The GOP has spent $25,900 on mailings against Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville. And the state party has passed the $30,000 mark in spending against Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury.
The House and Senate DFL caucuses reported only a few independent expenditures in their pre-general election campaign finance reports.
Despite a prohibitive lead in fundraising, House DFLers had spent far less as of the deadline than House Republicans on independent expenditures in contested races. The House DFL handed over a substantial portion of its receipts to the state DFL Party, which in turn has made independent expenditures on legislative races. (One operative noted that legislative caucuses give to the state party to take advantage of the nonprofit postal rate the state parties receive.)
The House Republican campaign, known as the HRCC, has devoted $579,000 to independent expenditures out of the $1.3 million it’s spent this year. Unlike the periodic expenditures by the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, the HRCC has spent its money recently.
HRCC’s independent expenditures include $30,000 for radio ads on behalf of Republican candidate Mike LeMieur, who is running in a closely watched rematch against Rep. Al Doty, DFL-Royalton. The HRCC has also bought cable TV ads in a couple races including $32,800 for cable advertising opposing DFLer Carol Lewis, who is running for the open seat being vacated by Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud.
The House DFL, by contrast, reported a single $8,437 independent expenditure for Doty.
DFL caucuses are sitting on larger amounts of cash-on-hand than Republicans as the campaign enters its final days.
The Senate DFL had $547,000 in the bank as of Oct. 18.
The House DFL’s report showed $729,000 in cash on hand. The House Republican campaign had $80,000 in the bank as of Oct. 18. Senate Republicans had $278,200 in cash on hand.