A renewed wave of political ads are adding heat to Minnesota's sultry summer television viewing.
With one of the nation's most expensive U.S. Senate races on the air, gubernatorial candidates making their cases and outside groups adding volume, paid political pitches are redoubling their assault.
The candidates and their friends have already spent at least $3 million to air their messages across the state and groups are reserving even more time for later in the year.
In recent weeks, the paid advertising messages came into sharper focus.
On Monday, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden announced he would broadcast an ad called "Stitches," in which he and his son brag that McFadden took his sons sutures out himself rather than paying medical professions to do it. The ad, which had a limited cable run earlier this year, came on the heels of an ad in which McFadden was hit below the belt by a kid he was coaching in football.
While those ads have begun to get significant notice, Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken's ad budget far surpasses what McFadden has spent. Franken has ponied up more than $1.5 million to spread a message that he cares more about regular Minnesotans than partisan Washington fights.
Franken has more money to spend. He is one of the Senate's most prodigious fundraisers and raised more than all but one incumbent in the last quarter of the year, according to recent reports.
While that premiere race has yet to attract much outside cash in recent months, races lower on the ballot are attracting notice.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson supporters banded together to produce an advertisement designed to support the party-endorsed candidate. Group volunteer Chris Tiedeman, an RNC committeeman, told Politics.MN it would air on television in the coming weeks.
Johnson's campaign said on Monday it would start running its own ads on cable in advance of the primary. Like McFadden's "Stitches" ad, the Johnson ad has been online for months and, like the McFadden ad, it take a lighthearted approach to a serious issue.
Republican Rep. Kurt Zellers, who will vie against Johnson, former Rep. Marty Seifert and businessman Scott Honour, started his own paid advertising program last week. Honour’s consultant Pat Shortridge said Honour has spent almost $100,000 on cable ad time and another $42,000 on radio ads. A group largely funded by Honour's former employer, the Gores Group, has also spent more than $200,000 to support Honour.
Meanwhile, the man the Republicans hope to unseat, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has yet to storm the airwaves -- but his friends have started the assault.
The big spending Democratic Alliance for a Better Minnesota put significant cash behind a pro-Dayton ad that began airing recently.
The Alliance, which invested considerable cash back in 2010 to bash Dayton's Republican opponent, used the ad to make a pitch for the idea that Minnesota is better off now than it was four years ago before Dayton was elected.
Television viewers this year had already seen ads trashing Dayton. Early this month, the big spending conservative Freedom Club began airing an anti-Dayton ad on broadcast television.
A state Office of Administrative Hearings panel rejected claims by Matt Entenza that Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto lied when she said she had not voted for legislation requiring voter identification.
In an 11-page order issued Thursday, the three-judge panel rejected the official campaign complaint filed by Entenza, who is challenging Otto in a DFL primary Aug. 12. Entenza, a former House minority leader, filed for the office in the last moments before deadline, surprising Otto, a former House colleague, and many DFLers.
Entenza filed the complaint in June based on a Facebook comment Otto posted, after she was asked if she voted for Voter ID as a state legislator. Otto responded to the post saying "No, Lauren. It was not around in 2003. No one can find a bill on the issue when I served."
Otto wrote that no one could find a 2003 voter ID bill that she had opposed, as Entenza had claimed.
"Matt will say anything," she said in the post.
According to the ruling, two bills proposing the requirement of identification at the polls were presented on the House floor during the 2003 legislative session. Then-state Rep. Keith Ellison at the time presented an amendment removing the voter identification language from the legislation, which Otto voted against. Of the two bills, Otto voted against one that would require voter identification and in favor of another requring voter ID. However, the Voter ID language was stripped from the language in conference committee and Otto voted in favor of the revised version.
Otto said that the statement on her Facebook page was in reference to the highly- controversial proposed Voter ID amendment to the state constition defeated by voters in 2012, not the 2003 bills, which provided an exception for individuals without identification. Otto also maintained that she did not recall "Voter ID" being an issue when she served in the Legislature, and that her Facebook page is not "campaign material."
In dismissing the case, the panel concluded that "there are no disputed facts in this matter--only differing interpretations of the meaning of the phrase "voter ID," which is not sufficient for Entenza to bring a case.
"Ms. Otto's quick response to the Facebook post tends to support the conclusion that she subjectively understood her response to be truthful," the panel wrote.
Entenza campaign manager Dave Colling, who brought the complaint on the candidate's behalf, said Thursday that Otto's record on voter ID remains an issue for the campaign.
"Even though the case was dismissed it didn't go as far as to say she did not vote for voter ID," Colling said. "At the end of the day it doesn't change the fact that she voted for voter ID in the Legislature twice."
In a statement issued by the DFL, Otto's attorney, Charlie Nauen, called the ruling "a complete victory for Rebecca Otto over Matt Entenza's misleading claims and distortion of the facts."
"I have never voted for Voter ID," Otto said in the statement. "In fact, I campaigned against it."
"Rebecca Otto had it right," DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said. "Matt Entenza will say anything to get himself elected."
Read the ruling here:
Republican candidate for governor Scott Honour has added another $500,000 in personal funds to his campaign coffers, his campaign manager said Thursday.
The new cash infusion just 19 days before Minnesotans decide whether to pick him or one of his rivals to take on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in the fall could give the little-known businessman a boost in the final days of the campaign.
"From the start, Scott's made sure the campaign has what it takes financially to win the Governor's race. But this campaign is about a lot more than money. It's about who voters can trust to make real change in St Paul," said Honour senior consultant Pat Shortridge.
So far, Honour has been the best funded GOP candidate for governor, with more than $900,000 of his campaign cash coming from his own pocket. His campaign said he raised $100,000 from others in the past few months.
He will face fellow Republicans Kurt Zellers, a former House speaker, Marty Seifert, a former House minority leader, and Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner and the GOP-endorsed pick in the primary. Honour is the only one among the bunch who has never run for office before.
Minnesotans have proven they bear no ill-will toward self-funded candidates.
Gov. Mark Dayton largely self-financed his campaign for governor in 2010 and his previous successful campaign for the U.S. Senate. He is fundraising from others for his re-election campaign.
All candidates must report their most recent campaign finance numbers on Monday. Those will be made public on Tuesday.
Photo: Scott Honour in a St. Cloud parade/Glenn Stubbe, Star Tribune
Correction: This post has corrected Pat Shortridge' title.
Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton earned $352,601, a little less than half of which came from capital gains, according to tax returns he released on Wednesday.
The DFL governor, who has released his tax returns every year since 2010, gave $10,000 to charity and paid $76,008 in federal taxes and $29,932 in state taxes, for an effective tax rate of 30 percent.
The heir to the Dayton's department store fortune earned $116,092 from his state salary and $73,062 from dividends.
In 2012, Dayton earned a similar amount from similar sources but only gave $1,000 to charity. He said at the time that he was" disappointed in myself," because of his lack of charitable contributions. He gave ten times more in 2013 than he gave in 2012. His total giving equaled about 3 percent of his 2013 income.
Releasing tax returns is not a requirement of Minnesota politicians. State law mandates only minimal release of economic interests.
Zellers’ spokeswoman Caitlyn Stenerson said he will not release his until post-primary because getting them ready would take too much precious time during the heated run-up to the August 12 election.
GOP candidate Marty Seifert declined to release his tax information last year and did so again this year.
"I don't think our income tax return is anyone's business, but can assure you our household income is less than the other GOP candidates and much less than Governor Dayton," Seifert said in a statement.
The four Republicans will vie in an August primary. The winner of that contest will face Dayton in the fall.
On Tuesday, a day after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he was unsure whether the MNsure health insurance rates should be released before the election, the governor asked his commerce commissioner to attempt an earlier release.
"Making the rate information public before open enrollment begins would provide families and businesses additional time and information to help them make informed decision," Dayton said in a letter to MNsure's legislative committee.
The timing of the rate release has long been a political football.
Republicans have hammered the administration to release the 2015 health insurance rates before the November election, saying they believe consumer costs will like rise. Waiting until Nov. 15, when open enrollment begins and several weeks after voters will decide whether to re-elect Dayton and legislative DFLers, amounts to a political "cover up," they've said.
On Monday, Dayton appeared to resist calls for an earlier release.
"I think they are going to be so badly distorted for political purposes that I don't think they will shed any light for consumers," the governor said in answering reporter questions about the release schedule.
But by Tuesday, the date the MNsure's bipartisan legislative oversight panel is scheduled to discuss an earlier release, Dayton had decided an earlier release would be beneficial.
In his letter to the committee, the governor said he would like Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman to request the state's health plans to agree to release rates around Oct. 1. That would give consumers about 45 days before open enrollment begins and put the 2014 release on roughly the same schedule as the 2013 release.
Here's Dayton's letter:
Photo: Star Tribune file photo
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