Money is pouring into the battle for control of the State Capitol, with 13 legislative races near or above half a million dollars in total spending even as campaigns ramp up in the final days before the Nov. 8 election.
The bulk of the spending is coming from outside groups backed by business interests, labor unions and wealthy individuals — all largely untethered from campaign contribution limits.
New campaign finance reports released Tuesday serve as a road map to find the campaign's most competitive races, with big campaign cash flowing into Senate contests in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Red Wing, and House districts in Lakeville, St. Cloud and Waseca. The DFL, which needs to flip seven seats to take the House majority, is trying to expand its map by going after Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, in a southeastern Minnesota district where more than $500,000 has been spent so far.
"If they want to flush their money down the toilet, that's up to them because we're gonna win and win big," Davids said. "Send more money down here," Davids taunted. "That way they waste it and can't spend it somewhere else — and Republicans keep the majority," he said.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin chuckled before adding, "They can be as grandiose as they want, but it completely ignores the fact that southeastern Minnesota is becoming more Democratic."
Martin said he was surprised by some GOP spending in DFL Senate districts that he said are not competitive.
It won't be known until after the election whether a fundraising record is set, but it's already clear that all sides are pouring money into battleground races at a breakneck pace in the closing days of the campaign.
The DFL continues to hold a significant fundraising advantage over the state GOP, although outside groups — and not the party — are the driving force working on behalf of Republican candidates.
The vast sums of outside money landing in sleepy House districts that are home to about 39,000 Minnesotans are a reflection of the stakes: If Republicans can hold the House, they will seek to curb government spending and cut taxes. A DFL House and Senate would give DFL Gov. Mark Dayton freer rein to push his agenda of universal prekindergarten, a transportation plan backed by a gas tax increase and new worker benefits like a $12 per hour minimum wage and paid family leave.
Without a statewide race for governor or U.S. Senate, major donors — including Washington, D.C., groups pushing their policy agendas in state capitols — are focused on the state Legislature.
Donors who have shelled out big money in October alone include big names among Minnesota's power elite, including Joan Cummins, wife of GOP megadonor Bob Cummins; Alida Messinger, philanthropist and ex-wife of Dayton, and Jeffrey Anderson, attorney for victims of Catholic Church sex abuse.
The report released Tuesday covers the period through Oct. 24.
Since then, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, various American Indian tribes and labor unions have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in new political contributions.
The majority party in each legislative chamber showed the fundraising power that majority status confers.
The Senate DFL kept up a huge cash advantage over the GOP minority, raising $3.6 million, leaving them with $777,000 for the remainder of the campaign.
Senate Republicans had just $150,000 in cash-on-hand, but the GOP caucus has given significant money to Minnesota Action Network — a group backed by former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman — to run its independent expenditure campaigns in key districts.
House Republicans, who maintain a 12-seat majority, have raised $1.8 million and still had $950,000 cash-on-hand for the final push.
House DFL had $600,000 on hand as they seek to return to the majority they lost in 2014.
The most expensive races will prove even more so during the next week: The costliest race of 2014 saw about $1 million spent by candidates, parties and political groups, though that does not include so-called "dark money" raised from anonymous sources and therefore difficult to trace.
The DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota shelled out $3.6 million for mailers, radio and TV in key districts in Minnetonka, Plymouth, Grand Rapids, Willmar, Inver Grove Heights, Red Wing, Faribault and St. Cloud, among others.
The group has spent more than $120,000 trying to defeat Davids, who is one of the longest serving legislators in St. Paul, although he lost re-election in 2006 before winning his seat back in 2008.
On the Republican side, the Jobs Coalition had taken in nearly $700,000 and spent most of it as of last week, although the group has been taking in big sums in the days since, according to campaign finance reports.
Freedom Club, Pro Jobs Majority and Northstar Leadership Fund, all GOP leaning groups, had together spent $2.3 million on key races so far.