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Justice Paul Thissen, Michelle MacDonald
Justice Paul Thissen, Michelle MacDonald

Bar Buzz: Cash-wise, Thissen outguns MacDonald

The race for Minnesota Supreme Court is a tale of night and day — at least on the fundraising front.

Incumbent Justice Paul Thissen is running for his first six-year term after being appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018. He is opposed by perennial candidate Michelle MacDonald, who has run for the court in every election cycle since 2014.

It’s apparent that Thissen, a former House Speaker and veteran campaigner, is not taking his race for granted.

The justice began the year with a $57,372 cash balance, according to his latest campaign finance disclosure form, filed Sept. 21. Between Jan. 1 and Sept 15, he raised $128,395, mostly from individual contributors. Of that, lobbyists and political action committees contributed $15,705.

Over the reporting period, Thissen spent $153,857, leaving him just few pennies short of a $31,911 cash balance, as of Sept. 15.

His biggest expense, $62,792, was paid to Mahtomedi-based Hennepin Group for digital marketing, the forms show. Another $25,489 was paid out to St. Paul-based United Strategies for fundraising.

Thissen also paid $17,755 to two companies for billboard advertising and $16,787 to Sage Media for radio ad placement over that period.

By contrast, MacDonald started the year with $3,858. After raising $610 from three individual contributors and spending $1,471 over the reporting period, she retained a Sept. 15 balance of $2,997.

Her expenses involve payment for “website issues,” “campaign masks” and other campaign materials.

In an email Wednesday, Thissen said he is taking his campaign very seriously because he takes the job seriously.

“We need justices with broad and varied experience and legal expertise, a sense of fairness and respect for all parties and high ethical and professional standards,” he wrote. “That is what I offer the people of Minnesota.”

He also said that campaigning is a way to bring greater transparency to the court and its work, which he considers critical to courts remaining trusted institutions.

He also said that judicial elections are low-information races about which most voters know little, and is another reason why he is competing hard.

“As a result, in the past, my opponent has received upwards of 46% of the vote, despite the fact that she has had her law license suspended in the past for unethical professional misconduct and has been convicted of obstruction of the legal process,” Thissen said.

Though he didn’t mention it, MacDonald is also defending herself againt several new ethics complaints that likely will be heard by the Supreme Court sometime around next January, assuming she doesn’t stipulate to a Supreme Court referee’s findings, which are due on Oct. 20.

“We want to make sure Minnesotans are in a position to make an informed decision about this important office on election day,” Thissen wrote.

MacDonald, asked to comment on her fundraising totals, replied with a short statement. “My campaign and I do not ask for/solicit money,” she said in an email Friday.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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