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Continued: Minnesota political spending concentrated in few hands

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER and GLENN HOWATT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 30, 2013 - 3:32 PM

A coalition of Democratic groups and allies, the Alliance has taken in nearly $10 million since 2007, almost all of it from other political action committees. It has spent $7 million on Minnesota elections since then, making it the largest single spender among Minnesota political action and independent expenditure committees.

Fed by a money stream from unions, wealthy donors and national Democratic groups, the Alliance donates little to others. Instead, it spends it on polling, advertising, mailings and staff who have a single goal: Elect Democrats.

Carrie Lucking, Alliance’s executive director, said she already has begun talking to local and national groups about next year.

“We are very focused on winning the governor’s race and making sure that we retain a middle-class majority in the House,” she said. Although donors will not give formal financial commitments until 2014, she said it is clear that supporters want to make sure that Minnesota’s status as a “progressive island” in a sea of GOP-dominated states is rewarded.

That strategy has worked in the past. Concentrated ­spending by the Alliance helped send Mark Dayton into the governor’s office in 2010, making him the state’s first DFL governor since Rudy Perpich left office in 1991. Last year, the Alliance contributed heavily to the avalanche of outside spending that transformed many legislative races from low-dollar affairs into six-figure contests and subsequently gave DFLers control of the state House and Senate.

The Alliance is closely connected to the state’s most generous political groups and individuals. The same union and individual donors that rank in the top three dozen givers statewide contributed heavily to the two groups that fund the Alliance, WIN Minnesota and the 2010 Fund, which became the 2012 Fund. Those funders, in turn, got much of their money from the Democratic Governors Association; Education Minnesota and other unions; and Messinger and other wealthy Minnesotans, some with the last name Dayton.

GOP, business interests coalesce

GOP-favoring committees spent as much as the DFL-supporting Alliance over the past six years and share many big donors among themselves. But even though those groups, and their donors, often have close relationships and ­discuss strategy, they did not pool their money as the Alliance did. Instead, they largely spent separately, diffusing the power of their cash.

After seeing the Alliance at work, some say they will try to build an Alliance-like coalition on the Republican side in 2014.

“We’re going to be working together,” said Weaver of the Minnesota Business Partnership. He’s also the treasurer of MN Forward.

MN Forward tried to create such a coalition in 2010, taking donations from TCF Bank, Target, Best Buy and the Minnesota Chamber and fusing them into a $1.4 million pool it could spend to help elect Dayton’s opponent, Emmer, a former state representative. ­Target’s experience put a chill on the group and it has spent little since then.

Weaver said that in the future, businesses here will focus less on individual candidates and more on advocating for a job-growth-friendly environment in Minnesota.

He and others speak with admiration about the Alliance’s efforts — and a touch of envy.

“They are very, very well organized,” Weaver said. “We look at what the Alliance did in the last election [and] … we are trying to be as effective as they were.”

Interactive: Click here to see how your donation would be split between a multitude of PACs

Interactive: Click here to see the relationships among Minnesota's top political donors.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @RachelSB Glenn Howatt • Twitter: @GlennHowatt

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