Half-million-dollar subsidy headed to DFL's Dayton campaign; GOP's Johnson to get $389K

Gubernatorial hopefuls Dayton, Johnson are among 238 candidates to share more than $2M in public funds.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton

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The state of Minnesota will help underwrite DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s re-election bid to the tune of $534,000 and give Republican challenger Jeff Johnson a nearly $400,000 cash boost.

Both gubernatorial hopefuls agreed to abide by spending limits and raised enough on their own from Minnesota donors to qualify for the subsidy. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on Tuesday released the information about the exact amounts the candidates for governor and other offices would receive.

The state will distribute nearly $2.4 million to candidates for statewide office and Minnesota House this year. A little more than $1 million of the cash comes directly from state coffers. The rest comes from the optional box that Minnesota taxpayers can check to have the state donate to political parties for campaign subsidies. Public subsidies were created in the late 1970s to hold down overall spending in state races by encouraging candidates to submit voluntarily to spending limits.

Statewide, more Democrats opt to check the box and return cash to Democratic Party candidates than do Republicans or Independence Party backers. For that reason, Dayton will get a bigger subsidy than Johnson.

“The Democrats have done considerably better on the check-off program than Republicans,” said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the campaign finance board.

The percentage of taxpayers who opt to check the box for politicians has declined dramatically over the years. In 1974, more than 20 percent did so. By 2011, that figure had fallen to less than 6 percent.

Still, the subsidies have made their impact felt in some elections. In 1998, Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura was being outspent nearly 3-1 by his GOP and DFL rivals. The $327,000 Ventura got in public subsidies during the general election provided a critical cash boost that he used on distinctive television ads that helped him win the race.

Dayton leads in fundraising

The cash subsidies come in addition to the money candidates raise themselves. According to reports filed in July, Dayton has raised nearly $1.7 million, while Johnson has brought in nearly $500,000.

This year’s Independence Party candidate for governor, Hannah Nicollet, will not get a subsidy. She failed to raise enough money to qualify for the underwriting.

But 236 other candidates for constitutional office or Minnesota House will be getting a helping hand from the state.

The DFL, GOP and Independence Party candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor will receive between $25,000 and $90,000 in subsidies. The DFL candidates for the Minnesota House will share $625,000, the Republican candidates for the House will divide $408,000 and the Independence Party House candidates will have a little less than $7,000 total.

Each House candidate who agrees to spending limits and meets other criteria will receive at least $2,530 in subsidy cash. But some candidates will receive as much as $8,000, if they live in districts where many taxpayers opted to check off the contribution box on their returns.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @RachelSB

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