A political action committee called Minneapolis Works caused a stir in recent months by backing a slate of incumbent City Council members against challengers positioning themselves as more progressive, and by soliciting donations through the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a fund that helped Republicans win a majority in the Minnesota legislature in 2016.
The group’s activity — it has raised $111,000 and spent almost all of it on mailers and polling — was criticized by state Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Ilhan Omar, among others, as “right-wing money” meant to “buy the city elections in Minneapolis this fall.” Election Day is Tuesday.
But then Minneapolis Works filed campaign finance report this week, and the “right-wing money” turned out to be mostly donations from Democrats. The donor list reveals a civil war in the Minneapolis DFL, with complex and overlapping alliances, between establishment Democrats and a more liberal wing clamoring for change.
Council Member Kevin Reich, an incumbent backed by Minneapolis Works, issued a statement Wednesday pointing out the majority of contributions to the organization are from known DFLers, but also distancing himself from the group.
“I did not ask for their help, nor did I want it,” Reich said.
Minneapolis city races are technically nonpartisan, even though the city lists party affiliation on the ballot. Everyone on the council identifies as a DFLer except for Cam Gordon, a member of the Green Party.
The largest contributor to Minneapolis Works — James Lawrence, who gave $60,000 — was a mega-donor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and has supported dozens of Democrats over decades of political giving.
Lawrence could not be reached for comment.
Three labor union political funds also donated to Minneapolis Works, as did two former state DFL chairs — Michael Erlandson and Brian Melendez.
Of the 47 people and groups who donated to Minneapolis Works, 30 also donated to Council Member Jacob Frey’s campaign between Aug. 1 and Oct. 26. Eight donated to Tom Hoch. Five donated to the campaign for Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Minneapolis Works is agnostic about the mayor’s race, said Steve Cramer, a leader of the group and president of the Downtown Council. He said Hodges, Frey and Hoch are generally acceptable to the business community. The group’s backers are, however, alarmed by the council races and anxious to preserve the City Council status quo.
“If we were handicapping the mayor’s race, the candidates that are a little bit further to the left are probably not the leading candidates,” Cramer said. “If you’re handicapping the set of council races, you’d have to say there are a lot of competitive races that might flip the council pretty dramatically and pretty quickly to the left.”
Focus on council
Ginger Jentzen, the Socialist Alternative candidate for City Council in the Third Ward, has been the subject of two mailers from Minneapolis Works. One features a child with a box of matches, and the words, “Some things are dangerous.” The other has a picture of a squirrel surrounded by peanuts and acorns that says, “Ginger Jentzen’s plan for Minneapolis is nuts!”
Jentzen held a protest Wednesday outside the office of developer Steve Minn, an early backer of Minneapolis Works, to return the mailers and decry corporate money in the election.
“Big business and big developers think they don’t have to follow the rules,” she said, in front of 40 people. “These are the hurdles that are regularly put in front of working people when they try to improve their conditions.”
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition did not contribute to Minneapolis Works in the latest reporting period, but the fact that Minneapolis Works solicited donations through the Republican-aligned group could mean that money is being spent in ways that aren’t yet apparent.
The Jobs Coalition may have started contributing to Minneapolis Works after Oct. 26, money that won’t be disclosed in Minneapolis Works’ filings until January. Another possibility is the Jobs Coalition, whose next filing will be its year-end report, could have already spent money on surveys or on behalf of Minneapolis candidates on its own.
The Jobs Coalition could not be reached for comment.
“There’s no reason they couldn’t make an independent expenditure on behalf of a municipal candidate, but we’re not going to see any of that activity until the end of the year,” said Jeff Sigurdson, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.