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Voter ID ballot campaigns struggle

Paul Demko//September 7, 2012

Voter ID ballot campaigns struggle

Paul Demko//September 7, 2012

“Some of it’s going to depend on fundraising,” acknowledges Dan McGrath, of Protect My Vote. “We have kind of three plans: There’s the Cadillac plan, then there’s the Ford Escort plan and the bicycle plan.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Fundraising troubles limit both sides’ public reach

As adversaries in the battle over a proposed same-sex marriage ban continue to raise and move around six-figure sums on a regular basis, the forces arrayed on both sides of the voter photo ID ballot question are going begging.

Protect My Vote, the main organization seeking to pass a constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, initially set its fundraising goal at $3 million. But as of the pre-primary campaign finance filing deadline, the group had taken in less than $200,000. And the vast majority of that money — $150,000 — came from just one contributor: conservative mega-donor Joan Cummins.

That lack of fundraising success will almost certainly cause Protect My Vote to scale back its ambitions in terms of staffing and paid media.

“Some of it’s going to depend on fundraising,” acknowledges Dan McGrath, the chairman of Protect My Vote, of campaign tactics. “We have kind of three plans: There’s the Cadillac plan, then there’s the Ford Escort plan and the bicycle plan.”

Last month’s ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court — rejecting a lawsuit arguing that the wording of the voter ID amendment is vague and misleading and reinstating the ballot title adopted by the Legislature — cleared the way for the campaign over photo ID to begin in earnest. But the fight over the proposed change to election law has been overshadowed by the gay marriage ballot measure, especially when it comes to financial muscle. The two main groups on each side of the proposed marriage ban have raised well over $4 million.

McGrath blames the tepid fundraising for Protect My vote in part on the sluggish economy and donor fatigue in an extremely busy political season. But he also believes there is complacency because polling has generally shown the photo ID requirement to have strong support. A 2011 survey by the Star Tribune, for instance, found 80 percent of respondents favoring a photo ID mandate. “I have no questions that that’s played a role in some of the difficulties that we’ve had with fundraising,” McGrath said, “because a lot of people think it’s a done deal, a sure thing. They don’t want to put money toward that if it’s not necessary.”

Protect My Vote could get a boost for its fundraising effort in the coming days. It has an event scheduled at O’Gara’s Bar and Grill on Monday with John Fund, a conservative pundit and author of the book “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.” In addition, former State Auditor Pat Anderson, who recently completed a partial term on the Republican National Committee, will be helping to raise money for the organization between now and Election Day.

McGrath is serving as chairman of the campaign and leading the day-to-day efforts. Dorothy Fleming, a former deputy chair of the state Republican Party, is the event scheduler and volunteer coordinator. John Rouleau, a young conservative activist, is the campaign’s grass-roots coordinator.
“We’re seeing a lot of false statements come out of the opposition campaign that could mislead people into either being confused about the amendment’s affects or into voting against it,” said McGrath. “So our job is to counter that message with the truth.”

Billboard campaign

Protect My Vote is not the only political organization working to pass the photo ID amendment. Another group, Voter ID for MN, is focused primarily on putting up billboards at busy intersections around the state. But that effort has also struggled to raise enough money. A strategy memo issued in May called for raising $250,000 to pay for ten billboards in the metro area and another four to eight outstate. The plan was for the signs to be up from the end of the State Fair through Election Day. “You can’t delete them,” said Joey Gerdin, who is raising money for the effort, of billboards. “They don’t go in your spam box.” The group has drawn on celebrities like singer Pat Boone and former Minnesota Vikings Matt Birk and “Benchwarmer Bob” Lurtsema to help with its fundraising efforts.

But according to Voter ID for MN’s pre-primary campaign finance report, it had only raised $35,000 by late July. Gerdin says the revised plan now is to have 10 billboards go up on September 24. Gerdin is a GOP activist, but stresses that the billboards will be designed to appeal to voters across the political spectrum. “Half of my relatives voted for Barack Obama and they’re honest, decent people,” Gerdin said. “Not one of my aunts and uncle who voted for Barack Obama thinks fraud is a good thing.”

The main group opposing the photo ID amendment, Our Vote Our Future, is similarly constrained by modest financial resources. The group’s pre-primary campaign finance report shows just over $200,000 in contributions. But much of that total consisted of in-kind staffing donations from other organizations tied to the effort. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, for instance, contributed slightly more than $7,000 in in-kind staffing assistance.

Our Vote Our Future has brought on Luchelle Stevens to lead the effort. She’s on leave from her post as director of field information services for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Her resume includes time spent as political director and executive director for SEIU’s Minnesota State Council and a stint on the Democratic National Committee. Our Vote Our Future has also recruited a formidable group of co-chairs: former DFL Vice President Walter Mondale, former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson, Independence Party gubernatorial nominee Tim Penny and civil rights activist Josie Johnson.

Organizing muscle

While Our Vote Our Future’s fundraising has been modest, it can rely on a broad coalition of groups for organizing muscle. Among the roughly 80 organizations that are part of the alliance: AARP, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota AFL-CIO, TakeAction Minnesota, Somali Action Alliance and The Arc Minnesota. McGrath concedes that it’s a significant edge. “They do have a pretty tremendous advantage in the infrastructure that they’ve already got in place,” McGrath said. “A lot of the organizations involved in the anti-ID campaign have been around doing the door-knocking and canvassing and phone-calling and things like that for ages. They’re ready to roll.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO, for instance, has been holding weekly phone banks for union members to call on their colleagues and try to persuade them to vote against the ballot measure. The labor group also had a booth devoted to the issue at its State Fair pavilion.

“Every coalition partner has taken on the role of speaking to the people that they’re the best messenger to,” said Elianne Farhat, an organizer with the AFL-CIO, who has worked extensively on the campaign. “We are the best messengers to our members and to our members’ families.”

The AARP is holding “tele-town hall” meetings for its elderly members. The group has done two such events so far, attracting 2,000 to 2,500 listeners for each, and has plans to do four more. The next event will feature Carlson as a speaker. “We really feel like once we talk to people about it, people have some concerns,” said Amy McDonough, the AARP’s associate state director for advocacy. “It’s just about having enough concerns to not want to put it in the constitution. We’re not saying don’t find a way to do this, ever.”

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