A GOP-leaning political group is running cable TV ads to support Nolan West, a candidate for the Minnesota House who has a history of publicly expressing admiration for the Confederacy and disdain for President Abraham Lincoln.
The House DFL, which is trying to flip seven seats to return to the majority they lost in 2014, condemned the ads Friday and asked major Minnesota companies to withdraw support from the political groups that are paying for them.
“We are calling on these Minnesota businesses to immediately pull their support from West and his campaign,” said Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. He called out by name Minnesota corporate giants — including 3M, Best Buy, Medtronic, UnitedHealth, General Mills and Ecolab — that have contributed to interest groups like the Minnesota Business Partnership, which in turn gave money to the GOP-leaning political group running the ad helping West.
“I know that none of these businesses support the kind of rhetoric, the kind of beliefs that Nolan West stands for, but by their spending to elect him, they are supporting exactly that kind of rhetoric,” Thissen said.
The ad was purchased by the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a corporate backed group that is spending $18,500 on about 239 spots, according to the DFL. The ad does not support West directly, but rather, attacks his DFL opponent, Susan Witt.
Jobs Coalition executive director John Rouleau did not respond to questions, but sent a statement: “This is a last minute, desperate and false attack from the DFL to distract from the MNsure debacle,” he said, referring to recent premium spikes in the individual health insurance market.
The two sides are locked in a tight battle for control of the Minnesota House, with a diminishing number of battleground districts that could determine who will hold the speaker’s gavel.
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition has emerged as the attack arm of Republican efforts expand power at the Minnesota Capitol, relentlessly criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL leaders and legislative candidates. It formed to counter well-funded groups like the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which have served that role for DFLers.
The Jobs Coalition, whose former chairman is now a senior aide to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has received more than $700,000 in the past 10 days or so from the political arms of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, as well as the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which in turn receives donations from major Minnesota companies that Thissen identified.
West, who is running for an open seat in a GOP-leaning northwest suburban district, had become a political pariah since the Star Tribune reported his Facebook posts, including one in which he wrote, “It’s lynching time,” the day before President Obama was elected president. Labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce pulled their support, and West resigned from his job as a House GOP aide.
West took down the social media posts and apologized for them shortly after they became public, saying “they do not reflect who I am or what I believe.”
West’s DFL opponent is Witt, who is the subject of the Jobs Coalition ad that seeks to tie her to the DFL’s MNsure problem.
Charlie Weaver, the executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said the Jobs Coalition had asked for contributions for a different statewide broadcast TV campaign. As soon as the politically active business group learned about West’s racial attitudes in September, they pulled all support.
“As soon as we discovered it, we were out of that district and haven’t spent a penny there since,” Weaver said.
He said it’s equivalent to castigating anyone who donates to Democrats or its allied groups like the Alliance for a Better Minnesota: “I suppose you could say anyone who gives to the Democrats or the Alliance is supporting the wife beater Up North,” he said, referring to a DFL candidate in northern Minnesota accused of domestic violence.
“It’s silly. It’s like saying I bought some cheese at Cub Foods, therefore I support the Packers.”
Asked if the Jobs Coalition should be supporting West’s candidacy, he said it wasn’t his group and so wasn’t his call.
Rouleau, of the Jobs Coalition, used his statement to call attention to other DFL House candidates: “Democrats continue to fund and support Rep. Ron Erhardt after he mocked a victim of sexual assault, and Jerry Loud, who repeatedly abused his wife before threatening to murder her,” he said in the statement.
Erhardt, DFL-Edina, made a joke about a sexual assault bill on the floor of the House, for which he is being pilloried in TV ads.
A family court judge ruled more than 30 years ago that Loud — a DFL candidate for an open House seat in northern Minnesota — battered his ex-wife. Loud told the Star Tribune he sent her to the hospital with injuries and repeatedly threatened her.
Thissen reiterated that the House DFL is not supporting Loud’s candidacy. A spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Better Minnesota said they had also pulled support from Loud. The state DFL gave a $450 in-kind donation to Loud in September, in the form of access to its voter data.