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GOP-aligned independent groups have rushed to fill the campaign spending gap that Republicans face in their battle for continued control of the Minnesota Legislature.

GOP-aligned business PACs outspend Democratic counterpart

Above: David Olson oversees Pro Jobs Majority, which has raised $643,000. (Staff photos: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

GOP-aligned independent groups have rushed to fill the campaign spending gap that Republicans face in their battle for continued control of the Minnesota Legislature.

Six business PACs are playing a pivotal role in the 2012 campaign, and their efforts are all the more vital to a GOP edifice that has found itself hamstrung this year by the debt burden that has largely sidelined the Republican Party of Minnesota and left GOP majorities at a spending disadvantage compared to their Democratic counterparts.

Those six groups — the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund, Pro Jobs Majority, the Minnesota Business Partnership PAC, Minnesota’s Future and Freedom Club State PAC — are counterbalanced on the DFL side by a single behemoth: the liberal Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM), which was widely credited with playing a critical role in the election of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton despite the Republican wave of 2010.

The business PACs have made roughly $2.6 million in independent expenditures for the year as of October 22, according to campaign finance reports released Tuesday morning. Not only were they holding onto roughly $1.52 million in cash on hand as of that date, but the cash spigot from a variety of conservative donors appeared to be very much still on.

ABM, meanwhile, has raised $3 million for the year. The group has targeted over $1 million in independent expenditures on legislative races, and another $62,000 on opposing a pair of Republican-sponsored ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage in the state and to require voter photo ID at the ballot box.

ABM has spent heavily in marquee races against first-term Republicans in the suburbs and greater Minnesota. It has also devoted attention to some GOP-leaning districts: The group has spent $62,409 against Senate Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann, who is running for reelection in Eden Prairie’s SD 48, and $46,322 against Pat Hall, a first-time Republican candidate who is vying for the Apple Valley/Rosemount-area SD 57 seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Chris Gerlach.

Two groups lead spending field

Two business groups in particular, Freedom Club State PAC and Minnesota’s Future, have spent striking amounts of cash to attack DFL challengers in competitive races featuring GOP incumbents.

Freedom Club, the most conservative and the most ideological of the pro-Republican spenders, has also raised and spent the most money. The PAC has raised $1.55 million in cash for the year and devoted $1.3 million of it to independent expenditures. This month, Freedom Club received $1.15 million from Joan Cummins, the wife of Primera Technology executive and GOP mega-donor Bob Cummins. For the most part, though, Freedom Club’s report lists a passel of contributions in the $1,000 to $5,000 range.

Freedom Club has found itself at odds not only with DFLers but likewise with GOP moderates. The group made waves this year by campaigning actively against two middle-of-the-road Republicans, Reps. Connie Doepke and Steve Smith, during summertime primary battles in the west-suburban GOP stronghold of District 33. And it has focused its firepower on a race-by-race basis. While Freedom Club contributed $35,000 to the Senate Republican caucus, it opted not to contribute to House Republicans, reportedly due to anger that House leaders failed to advance a right-to-work constitutional amendment proposal that would have allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues.

As of Oct. 22, Freedom Club’s spending had reached six figures in attacks against three DFL Senate challengers: $121,000 against Melisa Franzen in Edina’s District 49; $117,000 against John Hoffman in Coon Rapids’s District 36; and $100,000 against Jim Carlson in Eagan’s District 51. In each of those districts as in many others, Freedom Club spent much smaller amounts in positive ads for the Republican candidates.
The other big spender among pro-GOP PACs this year, Minnesota’s Future, has received $585,000 in the past month from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national outfit devoted in part to state legislative battles. Notably, the RSLC’s Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, funneled its Minnesota money directly to the state DFL Party apparatus.
Minnesota’s Future has raised over $1.1 million in cash and had $316,771 in the bank as Oct. 22. Its contributions this year have come from only 10 companies, along with GOP caucus and RLSC money. The group has spent $770,000 this year on legislative races.

Corporate cash

Minnesota’s Future is among a new breed of post-Citizens United political spending groups in the state that can receive and spend direct corporate contributions to influence elections. The same is true of Pro Jobs Majority, which was established by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 C.U. decision.

Minnesota’s Future’s treasurer, Greg Johnson, and his public affairs firm, Weber Johnson, craft the group’s direct mail and advertising.

Davisco Foods International and Frauenshuh Companies gave early in the campaign cycle to Minnesota’s Future as it amassed a sizeable war chest. The group did not begin spending until relatively late in the cycle. But it has quickly made up for lost time, racking up $744,000 in independent expenditures since September 18.

Unlike Freedom Club, Minnesota’s Future’s spending either for or against candidates has maxed out at the $30,000 range. The buys mostly include direct mail and phone banking, along with some radio and web advertising.

Somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota’s Future didn’t go big in the ultra-competitive suburban districts like Eagan and Edina. It took a pass on the Edina Senate race in District 49 where the Freedom Club dropped $117,000 against Franzen. But the group has been meticulous in its attention to any greater Minnesota districts with the slightest sign of a competitive pulse. For example, in the open House District 2B, Minnesota’s Future spent $21,500 against former Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, and $10,500 in favor of Republican Steve Green.

Among the remaining groups in the pro-GOP fold:

Pro Jobs Majority: Overseen by Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson, PJM has raised $643,000, made $295,578 in independent expenditures and has $477,629 in cash on hand. Since September 18, Pro Jobs has made $132,000 in independent expenditures. While a lot of its fundraising was conducted earlier in the year, Hubbard Broadcasting kicked in an additional $50,000 earlier this month after giving the same amount back in January.

In addition to radio and direct mail, Pro Jobs has spent on TV advertising. It made a $28,000 broadcast and cable buy in the Moorhead area on behalf of Republican Phil Hansen, who is running in the open seat being vacated by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. Pro Jobs also made two $14,000 cable ad buys in the northern Minneapolis suburbs, one against DFLer John Hoffman in SD 36 and one opposing former DFL Rep. Alice Johnson in SD 37. It spent the same amount on cable supporting the GOP incumbents in both those districts respectively, Sens. Ben Kruse and Pam Wolf, who are among the DFL’s biggest targets in this election cycle.

Weber Johnson constructs Pro Jobs’ mail and ads.

Minnesota Business Partnership PAC: Overseen by Charlie Weaver, the executive director of MBP — which counts many of the state’s CEOs as members — this PAC has raised $189,700 in cash for the year. Its main contribution was $100,000 to the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund: This long-established PAC raised $149,600 in cash. It contributed $80,000 to the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses and refrained from making any independent expenditures of its own.

Coalition of Minnesota Businesses PAC: CMB — which, like Pro Jobs Majority, is overseen by Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson — brought in $250,700 as of October 22, with a substantial amount of it coming from the Chamber, the Business Partnership and a variety of sector-specific business PACs. It has a considerable amount of powder available with $234,992 in cash on hand as of Oct. 22. It’s devoted $72,000 to independent expenditures. The Coalition has been active on behalf of first-term GOP incumbents in northern Minnesota, such as Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River, and Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji. It has also made its presence felt in a handful of other swing races, such as the ones in Willmar and suburban Eden Prairie.

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