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Minnesota’s top donors skew DFL

Minnesota’s top donors skew DFL

DFL backer Alida Messinger has contributed $4.7 million in the last decade.

DFL candidates and causes have received a disproportionate share of contributions from the state’s biggest political givers over the last decade

Over the last decade the top 25 political donors in Minnesota have contributed $27.7 million to candidates and causes.

Topping the list of major givers is former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza and his wife, former United Health Care executive Lois Quam, who contributed nearly $6 million to DFL candidates and causes between 2002 and 2011. But the vast majority of that money — $5.2 million — went toward Entenza’s failed 2010 campaign for governor.

In second position on the list is another DFL financial heavyweight: Alida Messinger, the Rockefeller heir and ex-wife of Gov. Mark Dayton, who contributed $4.7 million in the last decade. Her recent donations have included $610,000 to the DFL State Central Committee in 2011 and $1 million in 2008 to the organization that successfully backed a ballot measure to increase the state’s sales tax, with proceeds benefiting the outdoors and the arts. Messinger also contributed nearly $1.5 million to a trio of DFL-aligned independent expenditure groups that played a crucial role in helping Dayton win the 2010 gubernatorial contest.

Rounding out the top three are influential conservative contributors Robert and Joan Cummins, who contributed $3.4 million to GOP candidates and causes over the past decade. That includes more than $500,000 in contributions to the Freedom Club, the GOP-aligned independent expenditure group that Robert Cummins founded in 1995. Last year the couple contributed $125,000 each to the GOP House and Senate caucuses. But the Star Tribune reported last month that Robert Cummins doesn’t intend to make any more contributions to the caucuses this election cycle in part out of frustration that they failed pursue a so-called “right to work” amendment limiting union power.

Capitol Report’s list of top donors was created by searching public databases maintained by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. It includes state contributions made between 2002 and 2011. Donations to federal campaigns and causes are not included in this analysis. Because of misspellings contained in the database, some contributions may have been overlooked in calculating the totals for each donor.

Donors who primarily support DFL candidates and causes dominate the list of the state’s top political givers. Fourteen households on the list by and large support DFLers, while 10 mostly back Republicans. In dollar amounts, DFLers among the top 25 givers more than doubled up on their GOP counterparts. Donors supporting DFLers contributed $18.1 million, while their GOP counterparts contributed $8.7 million.

Political patronage is not generally a bipartisan affair. Only one couple among the top 25 households — Robert and Justine Haselow — gave generously to both parties. Robert Haselow is the founder of Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, which has lobbied aggressively to keep in place a moratorium on cancer radiation clinics in a 14-county metro area.

There’s some evidence that DFLers are likely to widen the cash advantage with the state’s most generous donors in years to come. That’s because several new major donors have emerged in recent years. Eric and Andrew Dayton, the governor’s sons, contributed more than $800,000 combined over the last decade. But all but $11,500 of that money was distributed between 2008 and 2011. Altogether there are a total of four Daytons on the list, including Mark, who has made nearly $550,000 in state political contributions over the last decade.

Another DFL couple that has emerged as major political contributors in recent election cycles is Jim and Pam Deal. They’ve contributed more than $450,000 over the last decade, with all but $18,000 of that money being distributed since 2006. Jim Deal is the founder of a crop-insurance firm based in Ramsey.

DFLers also lost a faithful donor this year when John Cowles, Jr., former publisher of the Star Tribune, died in March. John and Sage Cowles contributed just over $350,000 to DFL committees in the last decade, placing them 20th on the list of top state donors.

While Republicans were far behind in the money hunt, several notable GOP donors made the cut. Brian Sullivan, who narrowly lost the GOP gubernatorial endorsement to Tim Pawlenty in 2002, contributed $1.3 million over the last decade. But like Entenza, almost all of that money went to support his own political ambitions.

Landing in the 10th spot are Stanley and Karen Hubbard, with contributions exceeding $600,000. The patriarch of Hubbard Broadcasting – which owns television and radio stations across the country — and his wife have been GOP financial stalwarts for decades.

Glen Taylor spent a decade in the state Senate as a Republican legislator. The billionaire, Mankato-based businessman owns the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball franchise. Taylor and his wife, Becky, have contributed just over $600,000 over the last 10 years, almost exclusively to GOP candidates and causes. But Glen’s party allegiance may be slipping. In 2010 he cut a $2,000 check for the gubernatorial campaign of Independence Party candidate Tom Horner.

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