On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal limits on how much an individual can give to campaigns in aggregate, which could allow high dollar donors to spread their largess to a wider swath of political hopefuls and parties.
Unlike the federal system, which essentially limited how many donations in total a donor could give, Minnesota law does not place restrictions on the number of campaigns to which a high-dollar donor can contribute.
Current state law allows donors to give massive amounts to parties or PACs and allows donors to spread their donations to as many candidates or party committees as they wish.
"We’ve never limited the amount that an individual donor can give to a whole group of candidates," said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota campaign finance board. "We don’t limit at all the amount of money that an individual can give to a party."
Minnesota does place limits on how much candidates can accept from certain types of donors but Goldsmith said those restrictions were not considered by the court.
Other states, including Wisconsin, do have laws to limit the aggregate donations a contributor can spend in an election cycle, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Those nine states' laws may be directly impacted by the federal decision.
The Supreme Court did not overturn the concept of limiting what a campaign can accept from a donor. Currently, donors are limited to giving $5,200 per candidate per election cycle to federal candidates. Minnesota law puts similar restrictions on what an individual can give to a single candidate.
The court's decision will have a much more far reaching impact on federal campaigns and parties, including those from Minnesota.
DFL chair Ken Martin said the ruling allows parties to tap donors for funds, even if those donors had already given to multiple other parties or candidates.
"It has a big impact on state parties," said Martin.
Currently, donors are limited to giving $123,200 for 2013 and 2014 in total to all federal campaigns. That limit made federal cash difficult to raise, Martin said. The Minnesota parties were not limited to what they could raise from individuals in their state committees.
After the decision, Minnesota parties will be able to raise more federal money -- up to $10,000 per individual -- from donors whether or not those individuals had already given to many other federal committees.
"That is hugely helpful to state parties," Martin said. He said the lifting of the overall cap will mean that parties can be more involved in helping federal candidates "up and down the ballot here in Minnesota."
Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey said the decision may mean candidates and parties will be able to raise more.
"It will serve to direct campaign spending toward those who are closest to the public and most publicly accountable for their campaign activities. It also underscores the importance of both transparency and the protection of political speech, which are so important in our political process," Downey said.
Several donors with Minnesota ties have contributed enough in 2013 that they could have bumped up against the limit the court struck down.
According to a Star Tribune analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics, John Grundhofer, former chairman of U.S. Bancorps, donated $142,200 through the end of last year and Patricia Grundhofer, whose is listed on federal documents as the director of the John F. Grundhofer Charitable Foundation, donated $125,600. They gave primarily to non-Minnesota Republican committees.
Stanley Hubbard, head of Hubbard Broadcasting and a a frequent donor to state as well as federal causes, gave nearly $100,000 to federal committees last year alone. He said that every election cycle he gets many calls soliciting donations and he has to refuse them because he is maxed out.
Hubbard has a simple prediction for what will happen now that the court rejected the overall limits: "They are going to start calling."
Star Tribune data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.
Vice President Joe Biden will visit Minnesota later for this month for a high-dollar fundraiser.
According to an invitation obtained by the Star Tribune, the vice president will be in Minneapolis on Feb. 19 for a dinner at Minneapolis' Bachelor Farmer restaurant.
The dinner will raise funds for the Democratic National Committee with donations topping out for co-hosts at $32,000.
The Bachelor Farmer, which hosted a lunch for President Obama in 2012, is owned by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's sons.
Biden visited Minnesota to rally supporters in 2012, in 2011 he touched down for a fundraiser for the Obama campaign and in 2010 for a fundraiser for Dayton and a rally.
FBI agents have searched the home of former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a top official in U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, his lawyer told the Star Tribune Wednesday.
The search, conducted two weeks ago, appeared focused on communications between various campaign operatives and Sorenson, who abruptly quit as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman in the closing days of the Iowa Republican caucuses and threw his support behind Ron Paul.
“It was a very thorough federal criminal search warrant,” said Des Moines attorney Ted Sporer, who represents Sorenson. “It’s pretty obvious they are looking for communications with a presidential campaign, or third parties working for a presidential campaign.”
Both the Bachmann and Paul campaigns have come under scrutiny for allegedly making secret payments to Sorenson, a Christian conservative and Tea Party activist who recently resigned from the Iowa Senate under an ethics cloud.
According to Sporer, agents took computers and other mater materials connected to Sorenson’s work with both campaigns, suggesting that the federal probe into Bachmann’s campaign finances is far from over. A person who answered Sorenson's phone Wednesday said he was not available for comment.
The FBI field office in Omaha referred questions about the raid to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Iowa, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Star Tribune. A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington said he could provide no information.
Two former aides to the Minnesota Republican told the Star Tribune in May that they had been questioned by FBI agents from the bureau’s public integrity section. Central to the FBI inquiry were alleged payments to Sorenson.
But recent allegations of payments by Paul operatives appear to have broadened the scope of the federal inquiry.
“It’s hard to unravel,” Sporer told the Star Tribune. “I don’t know if it’s a series of related investigations, or if it’s one big investigation, or multiple unrelated investigations. My gut instinct is it’s one investigation.”
Sporer said Sorenson, now working in real estate, cooperated with the agents while his wife took their home-schooled children and left the house during the search.
“I wouldn’t call it a raid,” Sporer said. “It wasn’t unanticipated….It’s our intention to cooperate at all stages. Obviously, we don’t think Mr. Sorenson was involved in any wrongdoing.”
An account of the raid was initially reported online Wednesday by libertarian economist Robert Wenzel in the Economic Policy Journal. Wenzel, citing two unnamed sources, said agents spent seven hours in Sorenson’s Des Moines area home scouring through family computers.
A special investigator for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee found “probable cause” earlier this year that Sorenson broke state rules by taking money for presidential campaign work, including a $7,500 monthly salary from Bachmann’s political action committee and an uncashed $25,000 check from an operative in the Paul campaign.
Among the allegations swirling around Sorenson are reports that he could provide the Paul campaign with a pilfered list of Iowa home school activists taken from the personal computer of Bachmann campaign staffer Barb Heki, who later settled with the Bachmann campaign for an undisclosed sum.
Bachmann initially accused Sorenson of switching allegiances for money. Bus she remained publicly silent about whether he was paid for work he did on behalf of her own campaign. Neither her campaign attorney nor her congressional office responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Sorenson has steadfastly denied being paid by either campaign.
The alleged payments are now the subject of inquiries by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and the House Ethics Committee.
The Star Tribune also has obtained documents indicating a federal grand jury probe of several top Bachmann campaign operatives, including Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. Among the records that have been subpoenaed by the Justice Department are financial registers of the National Fiscal Conservative (NFC) Political Action Committee, which allegedly agreed to help raise funds for a campaign mailer ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Federal authorities also are looking at allegations of potentially illegal coordination between the Bachmann campaign and the NFC PAC, as well as with Bachmann’s own political action committee, MichelePAC, which reportedly paid Sorenson through Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short.
Bachmann announced last spring that she would not seek another term in Congress.
The Minnesota Republican Party and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann favored Domino's. Ron Paul's presidential campaign preferred American Pie.
And last year, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and northern Minnesota Democratic congressional hopeful Jeff Anderson went for Pizza Luce while U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who bested Anderson in a primary, bestowed Sammy's Pizza in both Hibbing and Duluth with his business.
Since Minnesotans can get as passionate about pizza choices as they are about politics, Hot Dish asked the Center for Responsive Politics to generate a list of all the pizza purchases from Minnesota's federal campaigns of late.
Check out the map of pizza payments below and perform your own pizza partisanship on the data here.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has excelled in her ability to gather small contributions from donors.
But this year, the amount of her donations that were under $200 topped the charts, drawing attention from the Federal Election Commission. In three months preceding July, she had taken in $614,000 in small donations, about 75 percent of her total haul for the quarter. Candidates do not need to disclose the names, occupations and address of donors who give less than $200 but for donors who give above that amount candidates need to disclose all that information.
Back in September, the Federal Election Commission reminded Bachmann, who is not running for re-election, of that rule and asked her to confirm that she was following the letter of the law.
In response this week, Bachmann pledged she was.
"The committee received a high volume of smaller contributions," Nancy Watkins, Bachmann's treasurer, told the FEC.
Bachmann's take in small, undisclosed donations skyrocketed as her national star rose.
According to calculations from the Center for Responsive Politics, 64 percent of her fundraising for her congressional committee in 2012 was from small, undisclosed donors. In 2010, her under-$200 donation was 55 percent of the total. In 2008, it was just 28 percent.
According to her October filing with the Federal Election Commission, Bachmann received no contributions from individuals in the last three months. She announced she was not running for re-election in May.
The recent hauls from small dollar donors are high compared to most members of congress -- even those who have national followings.
Democrat U.S. Sen. Al Franken has taken in 34 percent of his total haul from donations under $200, according to figures tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics, and took in about the same in the 2012 and 2010 cycles. Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, brought in 17 percent of his 2014 cash from undisclosed, small dollar donors. And Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, of California, has brought in 27 percent from those donors.
But, unlike Bachmann, none of those have run for president.
Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign has been under considerable scrutiny for its campaign finance dealings. Thus far her congressional campaign, which has helped fund her presidential campaign debt, has not been under similar examination by regulators. The letter from the FEC may indicate a change in that.
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