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Republican legislative leaders face challenges in amassing a suitable war chest due to both a well-fortified traditional DFL donor base and a state Republican Party that is financially imperiled.

Republican Party units losing cash race so far this year

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said his caucus’s financial footing is on a par with House DFLers when contributions from the state DFL Party are taken into account. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

But pro-business PACs keep up with liberal rivals

Republican legislative leaders are trying to finance their first defense of the House and Senate majorities they won by sweeping the 2010 elections. But they face challenges in amassing a suitable war chest due to both a well-fortified traditional DFL donor base and a state Republican Party that is financially imperiled.

The results from the pre-primary fundraising reports released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board show Republican party units trailing their DFL counterparts in year-to-date contributions.

The GOP Senate Victory Fund’s report revealed a decent amount of cash on hand despite low fundraising totals for the year thus far. Senate Republicans had $860,000 in the bank as of July 23, thanks in large part to having started the year with $693,000. But the $410,000 in total contributions for the Senate majority caucus was by far the lowest haul of the four major party caucuses in the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem pointed out a silver lining in that cash on hand was far more than the $227,000 the caucus had in the bank at the same juncture in the 2010 cycle.

“We have a little over $800,000 in the bank and that’s substantially more money than we had in 2010. We’re going to raise some more, we know that. We’re feeling all right in terms of where we are,” Senjem said.

Senate DFLers, meanwhile, hold a commanding lead with $1.36 million raised so far this year and $1.25 million in cash on hand.

The House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) is in a much closer cash contest with its DFL rivals. The HRCC started the year with $742,000 in the bank and had raised another $673,000 as of July 23. House Republicans reported $1,025,700 in cash on hand headlining toward the August primary.

The House DFL Caucus reported $1.24 million in cash on hand in their report. House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said his caucus’s financial footing is on a par with House DFLers when contributions from the state DFL Party are taken into account.

“I think if you look at the report,” Dean said, “there’s a very large transfer from the DFL Party. If you look at cash on hand, I think we’re comparable and I think we’re very well-positioned for fundraising through the remainder of the cycle.” (The House DFL’s report shows $544,250 in contributions from the state DFL party.)

The Cummins factor

One significant piece has gone missing from the House Republican fundraising arsenal this year: the deep pockets of Primera Technology CEO Bob Cummins, who has been the presiding heavyweight on the HRCC’s donor reports prior to this year. After the 2012 legislative session concluded in May, the Star Tribune reported that Cummins is angry with Republicans in the Legislature for failing to advance union-limiting right-to-work legislation, and has decided that he won’t make financial contributions to GOP party units this year.

To put the fallout into perspective, the HRCC’s pre-primary report in 2010 reported $542,000 raised for the year, with $100,000 of that sum coming from Cummins. That the HRCC raised more money in absolute dollar terms in the relevant period for 2012 without Cummins’s support is partly the result of other traditional donors stepping up their game.

Real estate developer David Frauenshuh and media executive Stanley Hubbard both gave in the neighborhood of $20,000. Neither of them had given to the HRCC as of this time in 2010. And the tilt among Minnesota Indian tribes toward a balance in giving between Republicans and DFLers came in the nick of time for the HRCC. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux gave the HRCC $50,000, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe gave the caucus $10,000.

The tribes don’t appear to have warmed up to the Senate GOP Caucus, if the pre-primary reports are any indication. The Shakopee Mdewakanton and the Mille Lacs bands didn’t contribute. Senjem wouldn’t comment on the tribe’s giving. However, some current and former senators have pushed against the tribe’s monopoly on gaming in the past by prominently supporting proposals to allow slot machines at Minnesota horse racing tracks.

The reports deaden any lingering suspense over the question of the state Republican Party’s potential involvement in providing financial backing for legislative candidates. The party’s report shows only $99,000 raised this year, and $848,700 in unpaid bills on its books. A request for comment on Tuesday wasn’t granted. But the recent investigation by the Campaign Finance Board into the GOP’s finances featured a deposition from party treasurer Bron Scherer in which he indicated the party is limited financially to day-to-day business operations.

“We’re just not spending money on, really, anything outside just paying the normal recurring bills, payroll,” Scherer said.

Pro-GOP business groups amass cash

The myriad fundraising challenges for Republicans heighten the importance of the numerous business-backed independent expenditure committees.

In the pre-primary reports, the GOP-aligned group Minnesota’s Future appeared to be the fundraising powerhouse. The group was created in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are constitutionally allowed to spend directly out of their treasuries to influence elections.

Starting with just $10,030 at the start of the year, Minnesota’s Future has collected some $275,000 from Minnesota companies this year. The bulk of the donations to PAC organized by GOP operative Greg Johnson have been $100,000 checks from both Frauenshuh Companies and Davisco Foods International. The Minnesota Business Partnership PAC has reported $210,000 in cash on hand and featured $10,000 donations from top executives at General Mills, APi Group and Target Corp.

In all, seven GOP-aligned PACs — most of them affiliated with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and/or the Minnesota Business Partnership — are sitting on a $1.25 million war chest, a figure that puts them on a rough par with the big three pro-DFL PACs that figure to play in the 2012 legislative elections.

One potential wild card among the Republican independent spending groups is the Freedom Club State PAC. The group has ties to Cummins and supports issues and candidates on the right flank of the party. A noteworthy example of the schism that’s been brewing between business and the political right appeared on Tuesday when the Freedom Club filed a 24-hour fundraising notice that retiring Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, gave Freedom Club, rather than her own Senate GOP caucus, $10,000. Hoffman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

If the independent groups can plot a strategy and avoid working at cross purposes, they may counteract the fundraising weakness shown by the state party and the Senate GOP Caucus. But many Republicans grouse that the business-backed groups are outmatched by the DFL-aligned independent groups that are backed by labor unions and Rockefeller heiress Alida Messinger.

“We don’t have a Mrs. Messinger feeding large independent expenditure groups,” Senjem said. “The [business-backed] IE groups are not going to see checks of the size that the DFL can put forward … It’s just the reality in Minnesota that Democrats command most of the political money.”

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  1. F. The Republican Party

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