Matt Entenza and his wife, Lois Quam, aren’t exactly the first names that pop up when Minnesota politicos talk about heavy-hitter political donors.
Rockefeller heiress Alida Messinger is one. The prodigious DFL donor and ex-wife of Gov. Mark Dayton is regularly mentioned at Republican press conferences and events as the woman who hopes to hand her ex-husband DFL majorities in the Legislature this fall, and she has earned that image by giving millions to support DFL advocacy groups, caucuses and candidates over the years. Bob and Joan Cummins, while notoriously reclusive themselves, are still the talk of Republican circles for their millions in donations to the House and Senate GOP caucuses and anti-gay marriage groups.
But Messinger and the Cummins family come in second and third behind Entenza and Quam on a list of the top 25 individual donors to Minnesota political candidates and causes over the last decade. Capitol Report compiled the list using database records from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
The reason? Entenza, a former DFL House minority leader from St. Paul and failed gubernatorial candidate, loaned himself a whopping $5.2 million for his run for governor in 2010. For his troubles, he came in third of three candidates in a DFL primary. That puts Entenza and Quam’s total individual contributions at nearly $6 million since 2002, more than any other donor in the state.
But it’s Messinger and the Cumminses who have been credited with shaping elections and shifting the balance of power in St. Paul over the last decade. Rounding out the DFL-dominated list are a handful of emerging donors from both sides of the aisle.
What follows is a series of biographical sketches of the donors who made the top 25.
Matt Entenza and Lois Quam
Matt Entenza doesn’t boast a massive fortune on his own. Lois Quam, his wife, worked for nearly 20 years as an executive at United Health Group. She currently serves as executive director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and reports to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 2006 Quam was named by Fortune magazine as one of America’s “50 Most Powerful Women.” Entenza was elected to the House in 1995 and served as minority leader for four years. In his 2010 run for governor, he placed third in a DFL primary behind Dayton and former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
No one gets Republicans more riled than Alida Messinger, whose family fortune has backed dozens of candidates, party units and causes in Minnesota over the years. Messinger was also a massive contributor to the campaign in support of the 2008 Legacy constitutional amendment, giving $1 million to help secure its passage. The amendment, which raised the sales tax to pay for arts and conservation projects across the state, passed with a staggering 56 percent of the vote. In the last 10 years alone, Messinger has given about $4.7 million to state political causes, and this year she is vowing to do anything she can to help restore DFL majorities in the Legislature. That prompted Republican freshman Rep. Mary Franson to chime in at a recent press conference, warning that Messinger was ready to hand Dayton the DFL majorities on a “silver platter.”
Bob and Joan Cummins
Bob and Joan Cummins have been the single most generous source of donations to Minnesota Republican candidates and causes over the last decade, and there’s no ambiguity in their giving: Their money is only red. Cummins, the founder and CEO of Primera Technology, started the business-minded political fund Freedom Club in the 1990s and has personally given nearly $3.5 million to conservative groups and candidates over the last decade. The couple has been particularly generous to House Republicans and anti-gay marriage groups, contributing more than $408,000 to Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage — now Minnesota Majority — and the Minnesota Family Council between 2004 and 2010. But the notoriously media-shy 57-year-old businessman from Wayzata might be taking a break from his generous giving to the Republican caucuses. Cummins is reportedly frustrated with the GOP majority’s lack of movement on a right-to-work constitutional amendment last session, and the Star Tribune has reported that he plans to make no contributions to Republican party units for the remainder of the cycle.
Vance and Darin Opperman
In the fall of 2009, Democratic strategists and donors held a meeting at the office of Vance Opperman. The agenda: to organize a multi-million dollar network of third-party political organizations to help DFLers win a gubernatorial contest for the first time in more than two decades. That effort ultimately proved crucial in helping Dayton win the 2010 governor’s race. The DFL-aligned third-party political groups – Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Win Minnesota and the 2010 Fund — bludgeoned GOP nominee Tom Emmer with ads highlighting his arrests for drunk driving. Opperman primarily made his fortune through West Publishing Company, a legal and business publisher, which is now owned by Thomson Reuters. He is currently the chief executive of Key Investment, a private investment firm, and serves on the boards of Thomson Reuters, TCF Financial and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Like Entenza, Brian Sullivan did most of his giving to his own gubernatorial campaign. In 2002, Sullivan loaned his campaign for governor more than $1.2 million, but he has also given generously to individual Republican candidates and groups like the Freedom Club over the years. Sullivan grew up in Baltimore, the son of a Fortune 500 CEO. He earned a degree in economics from Harvard before moving to Minnesota at the age of 24 to find the inventors of a water filtration system. He did, and ultimately bought the patent to the technology. He co-founded Recovery Engineering, which made PUR water filters, selling the company three years later and netting about $27 million. Sullivan went thirteen rounds of balloting against former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the Republican endorsement in 2002, eventually conceding the race in the early hours of the morning. He recently stepped down after serving six years as a Republican National Committeeman.
Steve Kirsch is a Silicon-Valley software inventor and magnate who has founded at least seven software related companies since 1980. His first invention was a more user-friendly computer mouse. Kirsch suffers from a rare blood cancer, and has a foundation devoted to research into the cause. Kirsch gave several large donations to DFL groups in the state in the early part of the decade, but stopped donating after 2002.
The son of a 3M engineer and longtime CEO of Target Corp. — now retired — Robert Ulrich began his retail career in 1967 as a trainee in the merchandising department at Dayton Corp. In 1984 he was made president of Target, which at the time was a division of the Dayton company. Three years later he became chairman of that division, and in 1994 he oversaw the corporate name change to Target and sold off all other department store divisions, including Dayton’s and Marshall Field’s. He retired from that job in 2008. His giving over the years has been generous – topping $1 million – and almost exclusively to Republican candidates and causes.
Mary Lee Dayton
Formerly a kindergarten teacher, Mary Lee Dayton has long been a strong advocate for women’s and children’s issues in the state. She served as president of the board of the Minneapolis YWCA and led the board of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. In 1983, she made a $1 million founding gift to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the first statewide women’s fund in the nation. She is the aunt of Gov. Dayton, and has given entirely to DFL causes and candidates over the years.
Robert and Justine Haselow
Robert Haselow founded Minneapolis Radiation Oncology in 1982, and he and his wife Justine have spent nearly a million dollars over the last decade to protect their family livelihood. The two have given generously to candidates and party units across the political spectrum in recent years to keep in place a moratorium on the construction of new radiation oncology facilities in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Oncology Hematology group wants to build competing facilities, and has lobbied to change the law, but the Haselow’s generous contributions, totaling about $816,000 since 2002, have helped keep the moratorium in place.
Stanley and Karen Hubbard
The Hubbards have long been among the most prolific political givers in Minnesota. The Hubbard Broadcasting patriarch and his wife have filled the coffers of predominantly Republican campaigns and causes for decades. The local holdings of Hubbard Broadcasting include KSTP-AM (1500) and KSTP-TV. Nationally the company owns stations in Chicago, Washington and St. Louis, among other locales. In the past decade the Hubbards have made more than $700,000 in state political contributions. In 2010 Stanley donated $130,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota, followed by a $45,000 contribution to the state GOP in 2011. Their largesse at the federal level is equally substantive. In the last three election cycles they’ve contributed $500,000 to campaigns and committees, almost exclusively to Republicans.
Glen and Becky Taylor
Glen Taylor spent 10 years in the state Senate, serving as minority leader for two years. The Comfrey native is worth roughly $1.8 billion, according to Forbes. He built his wealth through the privately held, Mankato-based Taylor Corporation printing company. In recent years the company has diversified into agribusiness and hearing loss devices. Taylor also owns the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx basketball franchises. Since 2002 the Taylors have given just over $500,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The billionaire hedge-fund owner is a heavy Democratic donor on a national scale. The former owner of Paloma Properties in Greenwich, Connecticut, Sussman now lives in Maine with his wife, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. Sussman is a strong supporter of the progressive women advocacy group EMILY’S List. Like Kirsch, Sussman gave large donations in the early part of the decade, but he has since stayed largely out of Minnesota politics until the 2010 cycle, when he donated $250,000 to the liberal advocacy group Win Minnesota.
Before he was governor, Mark Dayton used his family fortune to back Democratic DFL legislative candidates and causes in Minnesota, giving large amounts in particular to members of the Minnesota Senate DFL caucus. The governor himself comes in at 13th on the list, giving about $546,000 to DFLers over the last decade.
Illinois resident and media mogul Fred Eychaner has been dubbed by some as the “Daddy Warbucks” of the progressive movement. This year alone, Eychaner has declared $1.3 million in donations to national SuperPACS. Eychaner is a heavy-hitter in Illinois politics and counts President Barack Obama as an ally, but he also made sizable donations to the Minnesota DFL state Central committee in 2002, 2004 and 2008.
Bob Perry is a Houston, Texas homebuilder and major contributor to conservative independent expenditure groups across the nation. He is best known for his involvement with the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth and the Economic Freedom Fund. In the 2004 election cycle, Perry was the Swift Boaters’ largest single donor, giving $4.45 million. The group focused its efforts on questioning Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s service record and his military awards. Parry’s main contribution to Minnesota politics was a single $500,000 donation to A Stronger America-Minnesota, a conservative group based in Alexandria, Virginia.
James and Pamela Deal
The Deals are relative newcomers to world of politics. In 2006, the retired insurance executive contributed $100,000 to Minnesotans for Change, an organization started to keep Gov. Tim Pawlenty from winning reelection. Since 2002, the couple has contributed about $460,000 to Democratic candidates and causes in the state.
Eric and Andrew Dayton
The sons of Mark Dayton and Alida Messinger help round out a top-donors list heavy with Daytons. The governor’s sons have pumped about $800,000 in to state politics over the last four years. The fledgling restaurateurs – they recently opened the Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis – have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the effort to defeat an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall.
Bradbury and Janet Anderson
The former Best Buy CEO had humble beginnings: He got his start as a sales clerk at a stereo store. By the time he retired from the job in 2011, Anderson had taken in nearly $50 million in compensation. He has used that money, in part, to line the coffers of Republican candidates and causes in Minnesota. Over the last decade, Bradbury and his wife Janet have spent about $386,000 on Minnesota politics, giving large sums to the Republican Party of Minnesota and candidates like former Sen. Norm Coleman.
John Jr. and Sage Cowles
John Cowles Jr. came to Minneapolis in 1938 from Des Moines, Iowa, after his family purchased the Minneapolis Star newspaper. Over the years he made a lasting and visible mark on the city. Cowles convinced Tyrone Guthrie to build his theater in Minneapolis, and his name marks the conservatory in the Minneapolis sculpture garden and a newly opened dance center downtown. He was also an ardent and controversial supporter of the construction of the Metrodome in the early 1980s. But it wasn’t until Cowles Media was sold to the McClatchy Co. in 1998 that he became a serious philanthropist and political donor. Over the years he would count former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and former Republican state Rep. Wheelock Whitney as close friends, but almost all of his money went to Democrats. Cowles died of lung cancer last year at the age of 82.
Denise and Allen Dittrich
Denise Dittrich has poured more of her own money into her legislative races than any lawmaker over the last decade. In 2004, Dittrich donated nearly $200,000 to her own inaugural run for the House in GOP-leaning House District 47A, winning by less than 5 percentage points. Her husband Allen has also given generously. He spent more than two decades with Target Corp. He subsequently became vice president of marketing for Gander Mountain. In 2006 Allen Dittrich was cited for misdemeanor theft after getting caught stealing the lawn signs of his wife’s GOP opponent.
Tim Gill is a Colorado-based software entrepreneur who started Quark, Inc. in 1981 with a $2,000 loan from his parents. Quark filled the need for professional layout software in the media market, and within a decade Gill became a multi-millionaire. In 2000, Gill announced that he sold half of his interest in the company to open the door for him to get more involved in philanthropy, namely the Gill Foundation, which he started in 1994 to support nonprofit organizations that serve the GLBT community. Gill was also one of the first major contributors to the Colorado AIDS Project. In 2006, Gill gave a $300,000 donation to the Minnesota liberal advocacy group Alliance for a Better Minnesota.
Bill and Tani Austin
In August 2007 Bill and Tani Austin hosted a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman featuring President George W. Bush at their Eden Prairie home. The very next week the couple held a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser for Fred Thompson, who was then mulling a GOP presidential bid. At the time the Austins weren’t particularly well-known in local GOP circles, but their political contributions have swelled in recent years. Almost all of their $300,000-plus in contributions over the past decade have been made since 2006. In 1967 Bill Austin started a hearing aid repair business in St. Louis Park. In the ensuing decades it has grown into a global business with operations in 21 countries and 3,500 employees. Tani Austin’s son, Brandon Sawalich, a vice president at Starkey, was briefly a candidate for state GOP chair in December, but ultimately dropped out of the race.
Thomas Lowe of Excelsior is the past CEO of Lyman Lumber Company. In 2011, the 114-year old Minnesota company was forced to declare bankruptcy due to the decline of the construction market and was subsequently sold to a private equity firm. Lowe still serves as a consultant to Lyman Lumber. He has given more than $300,000 to mostly DFL causes in Minnesota since 2002.
Harold Hamilton is the chief executive officer of Coon Rapids-based Micro Control and a regular in the state’s conservative blogosphere. Hamilton founded the Minnesota Watchdog blog and has been featured as a speaker at Tea Party rallies in the state. Hamilton is also the former president of the Free Market Institute. In particular, his donations have been generous to the Republican caucuses over the years. Hamilton gave $31,000 to the House GOP caucus last year. Overall, he has given nearly $300,000 to Republicans since 2002.