ST. PAUL, Minn. - Despite the furor over Target Corp. and other businesses giving money to help Minnesota's GOP gubernatorial candidate, allies of the state's Democrats have quietly built up a financial edge as they seek to win the governor's race and keep their legislative majorities.
Democratic-leaning political action committees and independent political funds had a 3-to-1 cash advantage over groups favoring Republicans, an Associated Press analysis found. The AP review covered hundreds of the most recent campaign finance reports showing activity through July 19 and big donations for the three weeks leading up to the Aug. 10 primary.
The next round of reports are due Tuesday — unless a federal judge suspends the state's disclosure law in a case brought by supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. A ruling is expected in coming days.
Groups favoring Democrats were sitting on $3.6 million at the last filing deadline, compared with $1.2 million for Republican backers, the analysis found. GOP-leaning groups narrowed the gap by raising more than $500,000 in large donations in the last weeks before the Aug. 10 primary as businesses including pool equipment maker Pentair Inc. and Red Wing Shoe Co. wrote big checks. Democratic-friendly committees brought in slightly more than $250,000.
The analysis focused on the groups' bank balances as the clearest measure of their financial strength, rather than fundraising and spending numbers, which may be misleading because groups sometimes swap funds and report the same dollars as money raised and spent.
The dollars filter into the political process via television ads, glossy mailings and dinnertime canvassers ringing doorbells.
Both sides are loath to boast about their fundraising hauls, preferring instead to play up the threat from their rivals to keep the cash coming.
Democrat Ken Martin, who heads two political funds, predicted that his side will end up losing the money race. So did Republican Brian McClung, who runs MN Forward, a business-oriented fund supporting Emmer.
"They've been around and doing this a lot longer than we have," McClung said.
MN Forward sprang up in June after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling early this year allowed corporations to spend company money on elections.
Martin was equally glum: "These corporations could write a million-dollar check without blinking an eye," he said.
The AP analysis classified the groups' partisan outlook based on their giving so far this year. Another large set of players — including groups for law firms and industries ranging from chiropractors to real estate agents — shared their wealth with both sides. Those groups collectively had $2.1 million in the bank.
"We've always done both sides," said Christopher Galler, treasurer for the Minnesota Association of Realtors' political action committee. "Both sides are in power. Both sides have points of view that we need on issues related to real estate."
Even so, Democratic legislators, legislative caucuses and party units got four-fifths of the Realtors PAC's contributions so far, reflecting their control of the Legislature. The group's other money went to the House Republican Caucus.
State law bars outside groups from coordinating their spending with candidates. They can give a maximum of $2,000 to candidates for governor and $500 to legislative candidates. They can also give to political parties and other funds.
Here's how the fundraising broke down:
_ Democratic-focused groups commanded seven of the 10 biggest bank accounts and the biggest single donations.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a political fund that has been attacking Emmer in TV ads since July, reported slightly less than $900,000 in the bank, after receiving contributions of $900,000 and $700,000 from two Democratic political funds, WIN Minnesota and the 2010 Fund, respectively. WIN Minnesota got the biggest amount from any one person when Alida Messinger, a Rockefeller and the ex-wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, gave $500,000.
Other Democratic-leaning groups with healthy bank balances included the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, both tribes that own and operate casinos, and the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, a construction workers union.
Todd Pufahl, the Laborers' legislative director, said the union is pushing to elect Dayton and other Democrats in state races because they support state infrastructure projects and minimum-wage laws. The group gave more than $316,000 to Democrats and their allies through the last deadline, plus $250 to maverick GOP state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka.
"We believe the governor's race is very important. We haven't had a governor that has supported those issues for many years," Pufahl said.
_ On the Republican side, MN Forward reported the second-biggest bank balance, at $500,000. So far, the checks have been coming in denominations as high as $125,000 and $100,000, with Target giving $100,000 in cash and $50,000 worth of branding help. That donation set off a national backlash from liberals and gay rights supporters concerned about Emmer's positions on issues including gay marriage.
Two other GOP-friendly PACs, the Freedom Club and the Minnesota Business Partnership, also had hefty amounts on hand.
_ The outside political groups barely took notice of the Independence Party's Tom Horner, giving him less than $2,000 and reporting no independent expenditures on his behalf.