A few Minneapolis City Council newcomers are building sizable campaign war chests as they position themselves for an election that’s still 20 months away.
Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents part of the city’s booming downtown and Mississippi riverfront, raised more than $62,300 in 2015 and already has nearly $101,000 in the bank. The city’s first Somali-American elected official, Abdi Warsame, pulled in more than $43,300, much of it in small donations, and now has more than $49,700 on hand. Lisa Bender, the council member representing Uptown and the Whittier neighborhood, last year added $23,300 to an account that now tops $38,500.
Mayor Betsy Hodges also had a big year for fundraising, bringing in more than $46,400. But after paying thousands to consultants and a former campaign staffer and skipping an end-of-year fundraiser, the mayor has just short of $11,500 left in the bank — and has yet to pay back $21,500 she loaned herself during the 2013 campaign.
Fundraising efforts will intensify next year, when election-year contribution limits go up. But early efforts to bring in cash can provide a window into candidates’ plans and the depth of their support.
Council Member Andrew Johnson, whose campaign has about $29,300 in the bank, said the recently released reports for 2015 can indicate if an incumbent is vulnerable for a challenge next year.
“From the standpoint of an incumbent, this is the most important campaign finance report,” he said. “Because by the time the next one’s released, you’re either going to have a challenger for the [party] endorsement or you’re not.”
The amount of money it takes to compete in a city race can vary wildly.
The two council wards that divide downtown are big targets for donors affiliated with development companies, restaurants and entertainment. Frey and longtime incumbent Lisa Goodman have the two largest bank accounts; Goodman, who raised $12,700 last year, has about $96,200 on hand.
But the third-largest war chest belongs to Warsame, who represents a diverse — and considerably less wealthy — ward that includes the neighborhoods around central Franklin Avenue and Cedar-Riverside, a longtime enclave for immigrants.
Warsame’s campaign finance filings show widespread support from labor unions and Somali-Americans from across the Twin Cities and beyond. He held an April fundraiser in Seattle, another city with a sizable Somali population.
Warsame said his bank account shows that he has the backing of both established donors and people new to the political process. More than $17,000 of what the campaign raised last year came in the form of donations under $100.
“I think it says a lot about our work and how much work we’ve done on the council, and the positive perception the community has of our office,” Warsame said.
Along with Frey and Warsame, first-term council members Johnson, Linea Palmisano and Blong Yang each reported five-figure fundraising totals for 2015. Alondra Cano, the other newcomer, raised just short of $8,600.
Several of the council’s veterans showed less urgency to bring in cash. Kevin Reich, Cam Gordon and Elizabeth Glidden each raised less than $10,000 last year, with Glidden raising just $175 in small donations.
David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University, said the size of a candidate’s bank account can indicate both his or her interest in running again and the signals the candidate hopes to send to donors and potential challengers.
“At this time of year, if they have over $20,000, that’s not too bad,” he said.
But Glidden, who was first elected in 2005 and serves as the council’s vice president, said money doesn’t amount to votes in every ward. In her most competitive race, Glidden said she raised close to $40,000. But because her races have typically been less expensive, she said fundraising wasn’t a priority in 2015.
“You need the right amount of money, but it’s also the relationships and shoe leather that you put into making sure people understand you’re committed to your work,” she said, adding that her south Minneapolis ward isn’t the place “where it takes $100,000 to run a race.”
The race for mayor is typically the most expensive contest in Minneapolis. In 2013, the contest attracted 35 candidates and more than $1.6 million in contributions. Hodges’ campaign that year raised nearly $307,000, while her closet competitor, Mark Andrew, collected $420,000.
Hodges had a surge in donations in July but did not hold a year-end fundraiser, as she did in 2014.
The mayor said in a statement that forgoing a fundraising push was a deliberate response to a particularly busy time. In the last months of 2015, much of the mayor’s time was consumed with issues related to the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the weeks of protests that followed it.
“The most crucial part of any fundraising cycle is the end of a year,” she said. “At the end of last year, politics were the last thing on my mind. I consciously set aside political concerns to focus on ensuring the safety of the city and our people.”
Hodges’ campaign spent close to $64,000 during the year, with the largest amount — $18,000 — going to campaign consultant Andrew O’Leary. The mayor also spent a total of $21,000 on campaign consulting from two different firms.
Frey, whose considerable fundraising has added new fuel to speculation about a mayoral run, said he remains focused on his council work.
Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms said she believes a council candidate could bring unused campaign funds to a mayoral campaign, though she cautioned that she’d suggest a candidate seek his or her own legal opinion on the issue.
“Right now I’ve got no plans other than fulfilling campaign promises and doing the job I was hired to do,” Frey said.