At least one observation can be made following the new disclosure reports: Whichever of the five leading Republican candidates emerges as that party’s nominee, he will almost certainly enter the general election season at a significant cash disadvantage to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. The Democratic incumbent has some $733,000 in the bank, more than five times as much as his closest Republican competitor.
Within the GOP field, some candidates seem to be biding their time, choosing either to spend minimal cash or, in the case of one candidate, to delay efforts at fundraising altogether. The exception is businessman and political outsider Scott Honour, who has raised and spent money at a torrid pace, but has eschewed attempts to make close connections with party activists. Moreover, Honour’s fundraising totals include a large amount the former private equity exec personally loaned to his fund, without which the newcomer’s campaign would be operating in the red.
The lack of distinction among Republican candidates is somewhat troubling to Jennifer DeJournett, president of Voices of Conservative Women, who blames the lackluster fundraising to this point on general apathy among the party’s most committed boosters.
“That’s the underlying problem, where people aren’t willing to write that extra check,” DeJournett said, adding: “We do have an election coming up this November, and the candidates are quickly running out of time.”
Dayton, Honour took biggest cash hauls
Dayton’s fundraising total for the period of January 1 through March 31 came to $189,000. The governor collected that amount despite being sidelined through much of the period due to his recovery from hip surgery, as well as ongoing negotiations related to the legislative session that started February 25.
Of that total, $21,000 came from political action committees, including a number of committees and unions affiliated with police or firefighters. Dayton spent slightly more than he raised during the first quarter, with a total outlay of $199,000. That amount includes payments to four full-time staffers, as well as tens of thousands of dollars to different consulting groups: Anne Lewis Strategies, based in Washington, D.C., was paid $44,000, while the Minneapolis firm Southpaw Group received $33,000.
Honour is the only Republican candidate whose figures approach Dayton’s to this point. The former investment executive raked in $236,000 during the three-month reporting period. As with previous disclosure reports, Honour’s donors hail from all over the country and globe, with donations originating from California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York and Singapore, among other locales.
Honour also spent heavily to achieve his fundraising level, reporting $186,000 in campaign expenditures this period. He maintains a handful of paid campaign staff, and like Dayton, has invested large amounts in marketing and fundraising consultants. By the end of the quarter, Honour was left with $63,000 in cash on hand, a number rendered respectable by a last-minute boost from the candidate himself. Honour contributed a $50,000 self-loan to the campaign on March 31, the final day of the reporting period, bringing his total in loans to $151,000.
Blogger and former GOP operative Michael Brodkorb said Honour’s “burn rate” should not be concerning, as a first-time candidate will necessarily have to outspend rivals. Brodkorb also argued that there should be no perception problems arising from the fact that so much of Honour’s money comes from non-Minnesota donors.
“All of the money spends the same in Minnesota,” he said. “Republicans need to be competitive, and that means they need to take money from any legal resource they’re allowed to take.”
Finishing second to Honour’s haul was Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, who reported more than $91,000 in donations. Among all Republican candidates, Zellers seems to have done the most to take advantage of the newly reinstated political contribution refund, which offers a rebate on donations of $50 per person and $100 per couple. Some $49,000 of Zellers’ donations were non-itemized, meaning they came in amounts of $100 or less.
Zellers spent $127,000 during the first quarter, and most of it went toward fundraising consulting services and direct mail campaigns. The former GOP House leader’s highest-paid vendor was the Stillwater-based Pinnacle Direct, which received $56,000. Like Honour, Zellers opted to give some late personal aid to his balance sheet, contributing a $20,000 self-loan on March 31, allowing him to end the quarter with $79,777 cash on hand.
Seifert figure disappoints
Another notable development on the Republican side of the race came from Marty Seifert, the former House minority leader whose entry in late November seemed to garner immediate momentum. Seifert amassed more than $150,000 through just the first five weeks of his campaign, vastly outpacing other Republicans. This quarter, his numbers dropped off markedly, with just $64,000 raised through the first three months of 2014.
After submitting his report, Seifert issued an explanatory statement, saying he had focused on outreach efforts with conservative activists during the quarter. The statement also said Seifert had not employed a full-time fundraiser during that time, but brought one on in April.
“The GOP candidate for governor must have a statewide network of resources both financially and politically while also spending the generous contributions from donors wisely,” the campaign memo read.
Seifert spent $40,000 during the quarter, most of it on campaign materials, and also paid back a $20,000 loan he had given in the early weeks of the campaign, leaving him with $139,000 in the bank. Brodkorb said Seifert’s explanation of focusing on delegate outreach is a “reasonable” one. DeJournett, for her part, was less convinced of the efficacy of that approach.
“You have to be able to do more than one thing at a time,” she said. She added: “That, to me, is just a nice way to try to answer why you don’t have more money.”
If Seifert has spent his time courting conservative activists, his efforts have left something to be desired in the view of Jake Duesenberg, a Tea Party organizer who is affiliated with seven different groups that ring the metro area. Duesenberg said Seifert had attended several events, but was still lagging behind Jeff Johnson and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, in visibility. According to Duesenberg, activists he has talked to are “split 50-50” between Johnson and Thompson.
Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner and former House member from Plymouth, raised just $32,000 during the reporting period and spent about $58,000, entering the spring quarter with $141,000 on hand. Thompson, meanwhile, trails all GOP candidates in terms of present finances. The second-term senator took in about $67,000 and spent $79,000, leaving him with $36,700 in cash; Thompson also has nearly $27,000 in outstanding campaign debts. Duesenberg said fundraising prowess was a secondary issue for convention delegates he has spoken with, but would play into most activists’ decisions.
“I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that issues matter the most,” Duesenberg said. “But at some point, you do have to have the ability to run a campaign.”