Since May 30 attorney Bev Aho has raised more than $34,000 in an effort to beat four other candidates for an open seat on the district court bench in Hennepin County, a job that pays $138,318 a year.
Michelle MacDonald is challenging incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug and so far has raised $120 to Lillehaug’s $71,421.
Candidates with registered committees were required to turn in their pre-primary fundraising reports by midnight July 28 to the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The numbers told a few stories.
In the Supreme Court races, the incumbents had sizeable fundraising leads over their challengers. Lillehaug and Justice Wilhelmina Wright also collected significant support from lawyers and law firms.
In the district court there is a split between candidates who emphasized fundraising and those that did not. The rules for judicial candidates are different from those for legislative or executive candidates. Judicial candidates can’t personally seek donations or attend fundraisers with fewer than 20 people, but they can use their campaigns to host fundraisers and solicit donations from individuals, lobbyists and political action groups.
Still, most candidates spent a few hundred dollars of their own money to pay for things like yard signs, campaign literature and registration fees to walk in parades. Most incumbents running unopposed don’t register a campaign committee. In some races neither candidate has registered a committee or sought donations.
At $34,072.99, Aho reported the highest fundraising total among district court judge candidates. (Scott Newman, the Republican endorsed candidate for attorney general, reported $29,083 over the same period.)
Aho is running in a crowded field for an open seat. The primary election is Aug. 12. The top two vote getters advance to the general election. She said strong fundraising was not a specific part of her campaign strategy, but said she is honored by the support she has received and grateful for the volunteers who have worked on the campaign and the people who have donated money.
Attorney Amy Dawson raised $10,645.19, the second most behind Aho in the race.
Fundraising can help candidates communicate with voters and help stand out from the crowd. Aho has spent money on billboards, websites, and campaign literature and yard signs. The first step is getting voters to the polls. The primary election was moved up this year and the midterm election in November will have much lower turnout than it would in a presidential election year.
Once you get people to the voting booth, the next step is to get them to vote for you. Fundraising can help with name recognition among voters who likely don’t know who their judge is.
On the sample ballot in the 4th Judicial District, the contested judicial races are on the back toward the top of the paper with the uncontested below. But Aho said most voters don’t know that district court judicial races are not bound by geography. Any voter in the 4th District, Hennepin County, can vote in her race and the rest in the district.
The worry for judicial candidates is that voters turn the ballot over, don’t recognize any names and turn the ballot in blank.
“The names are kind of scrunched up at the top. It’s going to take some effort to go there and find the candidate you want to vote for. We are asking that people take that time,” she said.
Paul Scoggin is the senior attorney for the property team at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and is one of seven candidates running for judge in an open seat in the 4th Judicial District. He reported $24,440 in contributions from individuals, a lobbyist and a law firm PAC. Attorney Brian Hagerty raised $14,900, the second most behind Scoggin in the race.
Scoggin said he is suspect of too much fundraising in judicial elections and he has no interest in looking at the donor list of his rivals. But he said there is something positive to judicial candidates raising money.
“All of us who work in the legal field have someone call and say ‘Whom should I vote for for judge? I don’t know.’” he said. “So if [fundraising] allows you to communicate your message to a small subset of the electorate and get some facts in front of people, that’s a good thing.”
Scoggin said that when he speaks at community groups or at house parties or law firm meet-and-greets, he talks about his experience and qualifications, but when the fundraising solicitation starts, he leaves the room. He said he has used the money on direct mailings to likely voters and plans another round before the primary.
According to Gary Goldsmith, the executive director of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, candidates with registered committees were required to turn in their pre-primary fundraising reports by midnight Tuesday. Candidates who are completely self-funded or do not raise or spend more than $750 are not required to register a committee.
Candidates for office who created a campaign committee were required to file their pre-primary reports with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board last week. Below is a look at fundraising totals in the contested judicial races.
Minnesota Supreme Court, District 2
Wilhelmina Wright (incumbent): $25,839; $23,339 from individuals, $500 from lobbyists and $2,000 from political law firm political committees.
Attorneys at Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, Lindquist & Vennum, the State Board of Public Defense, Greene Espel, Meagher & Geer, Sieben Grose VonHoltum & Carey, Nichols Kaster, Bowman & Brooke, Faegre Baker Daniels and others contributed to her campaign.
The law firm PACs of Meagher & Geer and Faegre Baker Daniels also made contributions.
John Hancock: Did not create a committee.
Minnesota Supreme Court, District 3
David Lillehaug (incumbent): $71,421; $65,596 from individuals, $2,500 from lobbyists and $3,200 from political committees.
Attorneys from Merchant & Gould, Lockridge Grindal Nauen, Fredrikson & Byron, the St. Paul City Attorney, Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie, Greene Espel, Lommen Abdo, Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand and others contributed to his campaign.
The law firms PACs of Faegre Baker Daniels, Stinson Leonard Street, Gray Plant Mooty and Meagher & Geer also made contributions.
Michelle MacDonald: Reported $120 in individual contributions and $3,870 in unpaid bills.
10th District, Court 14
Stacy Lashinski: $3,700 self-funded.
Nancy Logering (incumbent): $5,829.03 self-funded and $10,450 in unpaid bills.
10th District, Court 1
Julie LaFleur: $401.12; a mix of individual donations and self-funded and $50 in unpaid bills.
Susan Miles (incumbent): $2,376.00, a mix of individual donations and self-funded.
7th District, Court 27
Steven Cahill (incumbent): Did not create a committee.
Cheryl Duysen: 3,870.10; a mix of individual donations and self-funded and $1,544.34 in unpaid bills.
Terry Graff: Did not create a committee.
Kenneth Kohler: $12,085.80; a mix of individual donations and self-funded.
7th District, Court 11
Richard Osburn: Did not create a committee.
Andrew Pearson (incumbent): Did not create a committee.
5th District, Court 5
Nathan Busch: Did not create a committee.
Christina Wietzema (incumbent): Did not create a committee.
4th District, Court 61
Beverly Aho: $34,072.99; a mix of individual donations, self-funded and law firm PAC.
Steven Antolak: $329.90; self-funded.
Mark Arneson: Did not create a committee.
Jean Brandl: Registered a campaign committee, but was not required to file a fundraising report.
Amy Dawson: $10,645.19; a mix of individual donations, lobbyist and self-funded.
4th District, Court 53
Bev Benson: $5,785.65; a mix of individual donations and self-funded.
Chris Ritts: $1,890.68; a mix of individual donations and self-funded.
4th District, Court 43
Daniel Cragg: $10,370 from individual donors.
Mark Gabriel Giancola: Did not create a committee.
Brian Hagerty: $15,900; a mix of individual donations and self-funded.
Jason Hutchison: $3,850 from individual donors and $153.75 in unpaid bills.
Glen Norton: $300 from individual donors.
Paul Scoggin: $24,440; individual donations, self-funded, law firm PAC and lobbyist.
Bridget Ann Sullivan: $300 from individual donors.
4th District, Court 16
James Moore (incumbent): Registered a campaign committee, but was not required to file a fundraising report.
Bruce Michael Rivers: Did not create a committee.