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State House candidates build war chests

Attorney Jon Applebaum, a DFL candidate in House District 44B, has rejected the spending limits that come with the personal contribution refund (PCR) program. “I’m willing to raise whatever it takes to help [the DFL] keep this seat,” he said. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Attorney Jon Applebaum, a DFL candidate in House District 44B, has rejected the spending limits that come with the personal contribution refund (PCR) program. “I’m willing to raise whatever it takes to help [the DFL] keep this seat,” he said. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

With big piles of money and high stakes, candidates for governor, Congress and the U.S. Senate have so far absorbed most of the attention when it comes to fundraising. But they aren’t the only politicos who turned in fundraising disclosures in January after clamoring for donations in 2013.

Legislative candidates in competitive House districts gave a first glimpse of their progress with disclosure forms filed late last month. In some districts, the imminent retirement of a legislator set off a scramble for cash among would-be successors. In others, first-time candidates are trying to build financial strength in preparation for a battle against an incumbent.

HD 44B 

After Rep. John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka, announced that he would not seek re-election, attorney Jon Applebaum began securing agreements for financial support from family and close friends. A series of checks that arrived in late 2013 gave Applebaum some funding to report by the end of 2013, but he did not stop there.

At the Feb. 4 DFL precinct caucus events, Applebaum passed out a flier announcing that he had raised $35,000 before the caucus, and had commitments from donors for an additional $10,000.

“I wanted to demonstrate that I’m a serious candidate who can raise money and reach a large group of donors,” Applebaum said.

Applebaum said that he also had “well over” $20,000 in cash on hand. Part of his appeal to DFL activists was his rejection of the spending limits that come with the personal contribution refund (PCR) program.

“I’m willing to raise whatever it takes to help [the DFL] keep this seat,” he said.

Applebaum is one of three Democrats running in Benson’s district. Jon Tollefson, a Minnesota High Tech Association employee and former U.S. State Department diplomat, reported raising $20,000 between his mid-December announcement and the reporting date.

A third Democratic candidate, Minnetonka City Council member Anthony Wagner, has also declared his intention to run in HD 44B. Wagner, who has previously pursued a DFL endorsement for the Senate, brought about $5,500 in holdover campaign funds into 2014.

HD 49A 

This Edina swing district is noted as a particularly expensive one for campaigns, but much of the spending in 2012 was carried out by party units and outside spending groups. Incumbent Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, entered 2013 with about $5,000 in his campaign bank account, and raised $27,710 during the year. Erhardt also spent roughly $7,500, a portion of which went toward a series of campaign mail pieces, and entered the election year with about $25,000 cash on hand.

One of Erhardt’s two Republican opponents nearly matched that total within two weeks of announcing his candidacy. Dario Anselmo, former owner of the Fine Line Music Café, declared he would run for the GOP nomination on Jan. 22, and set a goal of raising $10,000 before the Feb. 4 caucus date. Anselmo easily surpassed that figure, collecting more than $20,000, according to a statement released earlier this week.

Anselmo credited some of his quick success with the guidance of former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Cam Winton, who serves as his campaign co-chair and helped Anselmo set up his website.

“That’s made it easier for people to plug in that know me,” Anselmo said.

Many of Anselmo’s first donors were close friends and business associates. As he seeks to introduce himself to new supporters, especially GOP activists in his district, he plans to focus on his experience as a small business owner and his long-term involvement in youth education issues.

Though it might hurt him financially, Anselmo thinks his role as a political outsider might pay off with the “sophisticated” voters in that district.

“We’re at a point now where we’re not going to be able to take a whole lot of PAC money, which is probably a good thing,” he said.

Polly Peterson Bowles, the other Republican seeking the chance to challenge Erhardt, declared her candidacy in December, but did not report any donations between the date of her announcement and the Dec. 31 deadline. Peterson Bowles, a 2012 candidate for the GOP endorsement, brings $178 in residual funds into this year.

HD 64B

News that Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, would leave the Legislature following the 2014 election served as a rare opening for a  number of ambitious Democrats in that heavily DFL-leaning district. All six of the candidates running in House District 64B have pledged to abide by the party’s endorsement, which will be decided on March 23. The shortened timeline and fierce competition have inspired candidates to raise money quickly, and for some, to begin spending it almost immediately.

Three candidates in that field distinguished themselves by pulling in upwards of $15,000 in the short amount of time before the Dec. 31 deadline. Dave Pinto, a prosecutor and DFL activist, raised more than $19,000, including a $500 donation from former U.S. Senate candidate Michael Ciresi, a principal at the Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi law firm, and another $675 from that firm’s political action committee. Pinto had $18,856 in cash on hand at year’s end.

City of St. Paul staffer Matt Freeman collected the second-highest total with $17,351. Like Pinto, Freeman barely spent money before the deadline, and reported $16,933 in cash on hand. Beth Fraser, director of government affairs at the Secretary of State’s office, raised $15,025 and spent about $1,300, with more than $1,000 of that going to two paid campaign staffers.

Fraser said she brought on Laura Nevitt, who previously ran a successful campaign for Dai Thao, for her valuable experience

“As a first-time candidate,” Fraser said, “I know I need to surround myself it people who really know how the system works.”

Former House committee administrator and campaign organizer Melanie McMahon raised $9,300 during 2013, and brought $7,900 into this year. Former TakeAction employee Greta Bergstrom and DFL activist Gloria Zaiger raised $6,200 and $5,300, respectively, and each reported less than $5,000 in cash on hand.

HD 14A

Rep. Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud, is a newcomer to the Legislature following a special election campaign in February 2013 to replace Steve Gottwalt. Theis raised just $7,800 during 2013, and, with money brought forward from 2012 fundraising, has about $15,000 in the bank.

Her DFL opponent, Dan Wolgamott, managed to outdo Theis’ annual haul after declaring for the office in mid-November. He raised $11,495, and had more than $11,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31.

“All of my fundraising was done in six weeks,” he said. “It makes me very optimistic.”

Wolgamott, a real estate agent and longtime DFL campaign volunteer, said he was making good use of the political contribution refund (PCR), which refunds donations of up to $50 per person.

“It’s grass-roots fundraising at its finest,” he said, adding that his total came from more than 200 donors.

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