Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report
Minnesota Democrats are continuing their onslaught of criticism for GOP mailers that attack DFL House members for votes on an expungement bill and a drunk driving bill, pointing out that a pair of the Republican party’s own candidates this election cycle backed the same legislation.
In a news release, the DFL said that State Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican facing off against Rep. Collin Peterson in the 7th Congressional District, voted to pass an expungement bill criticized in the mailers as “allowing felons to work with our school children.”
Meanwhile, State Sen. Scott Newman, the state’s GOP Attorney General candidate, voted for an ignition interlock bill that the Republican Party is using to go after DFL House members.
Newman, R-Hutchinson, recalled that the measure had side support from law enforcement organizations. The measure passed unanimously in the Minnesota Senate, meaning that all Republican senators voted for it as well as all DFL ones.
The Republican Party claimed in its mailers that the drunk driving measure, “weakened penalties for dangerous drunk drivers.”
Newman said he would not vote for a bill that weakened penalties for dangerous drivers. Instead, he said the interlock bill allowed people who had been caught driving drunk to keep their licenses but only if they had a device installed that required them to be sober to start their cars.
“It may actually help get people off the road,” he said. Newman said he had not seen the mailer in question and was comfortable with his vote for the bill.
The mail pieces drew swift criticism from the DFL, who alerted the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Minnesotans for Safe Driving about the mailers. In response the nonpartisan organizations wrote letters criticizing the mailers and praising the legislation.
On Thursday, Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey struck back, saying the DFL is just as guilty of using sensational imagery in its advertisements. Downey decried the "misleading and sensational mail from the Democrat party."
"Minnesota Democrats have to use these tactics because their ideas don’t work," Downey said.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin called on Downey to explain why he stands by the ads if they call out members of his own party.
“If Keith Downey and the Republican Party (are) standing behind these attacks, then they are standing behind attacks against Torrey Westrom and Scott Newman.” Martin said in a statement. “If Downey is not prepared to make those charges against Westrom and Newman, then we expect he will cease to make those charges against Democrats that took those same votes.”
Downey and Westrom did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
In the last week, more than $780,000 has refueled Minnesota's political campaigns, much of it to influence the heated contest for control of the Minnesota House.
WIN Minnesota, a funding arm of the Democratic Alliance for a Better Minnesota, has received almost $142,000 since Oct. 21. Most of that money has come from unions.
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which has campaigned to win a Republican House, has brought in more than $110,000 in that same time period. The coalition's largest contributor was the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focused on legislative races. The RSLC gave the group $75,000.
Other outside groups, largely ones that support Democrats, are bringing late cash to bear in Minnesota.
A host of union-driven organizations has seen more than $300,000 flow into their coffers of late. Many of those donations came from the union's parent organizations. Among them:
Education Minnesota, which generally spends more on elections than any other Minnesota union, notified the state it brought in $100,000.
Public Safety Matters received more than $110,000, including $75,000 from WIN Minnesota.
The Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund brought in a $108,000 check from its related organization.
The two men who would be governor are also making late fundraising pushes.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton received $28,000 in large donations since last Tuesday. Republican Jeff Johnson received $22,500.
In a fundraising pitch sent on Tuesday, Johnson told Republicans in a video he needed $50,000 for Greater Minnesota radio ads and $75,000 to complete his digital campaign plans.
In the text of the appeal, Johnson told supporters: "Don't let the Democrat driven media fool you -- this election is going to come down to the wire."
Asked to delineate the specific complaints against the media and the media-controlling Democrats to which the appeal referred, Johnson spokesman Jeff Bakken declined.
Instead he said, "This is a fundraising email to Republicans and our donors. Jeff's comments in the video and note speak for themselves."
More than $12 million has already been spent to sway the outcome of Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District election.
The vast majority, almost $9 million, has come from outside groups.
The parties, the PACs the interest groups have poured on the cash to re-elect Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan or replace him with Republican challenger Stewart Mills.
The result is that viewers of Eighth District television could see more than 100 ads in the district during the final week -- as well as dozens from supporters and the candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and down ticket races. There are so many ads flooding the northern Minnesota district that television stations are increasing the cost of ads.
Only some of those ads will be directly from U.S. House candidates. Both Nolan and Mills have raised significant cash but neither can compete with the horde of interest groups making their wishes known.
The outside money has largely gone to tear down Nolan and Mills. According to public data, groups have spent $4 million to oppose Mills and almost $3.5 million to oppose Nolan.
With expenditures of $3 million and $2.4 million, respectively, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are the biggest investors in the district's outcome.
The Rothenberg Political Report recently changed its rating of the race to "Toss-up/Tilt Democrat".
Here's a look at the candidates' fundraising:
With questions about the state's health exchange and Republican campaign ads swirling, Gov. Mark Dayton dashed from a Thursday afternoon event about housing without taking questions from the waiting press.
Dayton's decision to leave the event through a side door with his staff was unexpected. His staff had indicated he would answer questions from reporters.
It was also unusual. The DFL governor generally makes himself available to the media.
Dayton, who is up for re-election in 12 days, made remarks at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Housing Awards announcement in St. Paul, listened to comments from two lawmakers and then, about 25 minutes in to the event got up to leave.
His spokesman, Matt Swenson, said the governor said as he left that he would not take questions from the press. Reporters who followed him out of the side door he exited saw his state vehicle exit the building's rear parking lot.
On Thursday, the Star Tribune reported that the Dayton administration had sought lower rates from an insurer that signed up to provide health insurance through MNsure, the state's health exchange. That insurer, PreferredOne, dropped out of the exchange this year.
Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson said Dayton should have stayed to answer questions about that.
"That’s part of the job of the governor whether it is him, me or someone else," Johnson said. He suggested the Dayton administration is panicking over the recent MNsure news.
He pledged that if he were governor, he would not avoid reporters.
"I will never unexpectedly run away from you," he said.
Also Thursday, the Minnesota Republican Party decided to delete the photo of a young boy who died from abuse in a television commercial trashing Dayton. That decision came after pressure from the boy's grandmother.
Thursday afternoon Dayton appeared at a campaign event with former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. He was also slated to appear at a fundraiser with the former first lady in the evening.
Photo: The governor's caravan driving away from Thursday's housing event. Source: David Joles, Star Tribune.
AFL-CIO leaders on Tuesday decried what they say is Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson’s opposition to increasing Minnesota’s minimum wage.
Legislation passed last session that increased the minimum wage from $6.15 per hour to $8 for large employers. By 2016 it will reach $9.50. Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner, has said he would not repeal the current minimum wage increases, but would not support inflationary increases beyond that, arguing that raising the wage could harm small businesses. It’s a claim history has proven is untrue, said AFL-CIO president Shar Knutson (pictured at podium) said at a news conference.
“When we the minimum wage has increased before, the world didn’t stop and businesses kept on running, and they didn’t lose many people because you have to have a certain workforce,” Knutson said. “You can say that, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s going to happen.”
Johnson is challenging DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Dayton’s campaign, along with Unions and other Democratic-leaning groups have long bashed Johnson for his opposition to the minimum wage increase.
The AFL-CIO, a state labor federation made up of more than 1,000 affiliate unions representing more than 300,000 members, is latest to follow suit.
Darcy Landau, a wheelchair agent for Delta passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, who serves senior citizens and people with disabilities, said he received his first raise in more than five years in August after the legislation passed.
“Despite Delta’s record profits of over $2.7 billion last year, and the fact that our CEO saw his pay go up over 50 percent to over $14 million per year, workers like me who are subcontracted by Delta still only make $8 per hour,” said Landau (pictured at middle.) “It’s a disgrace that there are hundreds of workers at the airport who make miserable wages with no chance of affordable healthcare with no advancement in sight.”
“Does Mr. Johnson realize the pain he would cause people like me and workers all across the state?” he said. “Too many families are struggling, working two or three jobs and too many people are barely able to survive even though they work for corporations with record profits. Does Mr. Johnson think this is fair? Does he have any clue what it’s like to work for minimum wage?”
In a response, Johnson campaign spokesman Jeff Bakken said the attacks are evidence of union loyalties toward Dayton.
"Mark Dayton's incompetence and paybacks to his union boss campaign contributors are hurting middle-class Minnesotans.” He said in a statement. “Under Dayton, our state is dead last in private sector job growth in the Midwest and 41st worst in the nation. With this record, it's no wonder that the rich special interest groups who own Dayton are on the attack. Jeff Johnson will not cut the minimum wage, and with Jeff leading our state, Minnesota will not be dead last in the Midwest in private sector job growth."
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