Budget impasse leads to ad war

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2011 - 7:23 AM

Campaigns could top $1 million as both sides try to sway legislators, voters.

The budget battle at the State Capitol may be in suspended animation for now, but the advertising battle over it is gearing up.

Advocates for Gov. Mark Dayton's budget stand and Republican legislators' alternative have launched dueling ad campaigns that could end up costing $1 million or more.

On Dayton's side, the liberal Alliance for a Better Minnesota is targeting a dozen GOP legislators with radio, cable TV and online ads, urging the lawmakers' constituents to prod their representatives to back the governor's plan to increase income taxes on the state's wealthiest residents.

Taking counterpoint is the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, which has been running print ads in 33 newspapers across the state that thank the 55 members of the House and Senate who resisted any tax increases to close the state's gaping budget deficit.

The efforts are just the first volleys in what is expected to be a ferocious public relations effort to win over the hapless bystanders in all this budget wrangling: average Minnesotans.

The two organizations are familiar players in the ad wars waged over state politics.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota spent millions of dollars during the 2010 campaign to back DFL candidates and attempt to defeat Republicans.

Its new ads are a followup to one launched after the Legislature adjourned on May 23 without a budget deal.

Denise Cardinal, the alliance's executive director, said her organization has spent about $600,000 on the current campaign, a sum she said could grow to $1 million.

The business coalition represents the combined forces of associations of builders, contractors, bankers, local chambers, truckers, retailers, Realtors and the Minnesota Business Partnership, who supported Dayton's GOP rival, Tom Emmer, in the 2010 election.

Targeting the same group

Earlier this year, during the Legislature's spring recess, the business coalition ran radio ads that urged Republican legislators to hold the line on budget cuts.

"The newspaper ads are a next step, but it's the same message," said Mark Giga, communications director for the coalition and for the Minnesota Business Partnership. Giga said his organization has budgeted about $250,000 for newspaper ads.

The business group's ads are the essence of simplicity: "Thank you for holding the line on state spending," followed by the legislator's name and published in the lawmaker's hometown paper.

The pro-Dayton ads say the Republicans' budget-cutting strategy "balances the budget on the backs of the middle class" and ask the legislators to "stand up for the middle class."

The targets of both ad campaigns directly overlap: All of the 12 GOP legislators criticized by the Alliance for a Better Minnesota are being hailed by the business group's ads.

That's not a coincidence, said representatives of both organizations.

Pressure in swing districts

"It's no secret -- we're singling out the same people [the alliance] is targeting," Giga said. "A lot of these folks won in tough swing districts that are crucial to the majority, no matter which party is in charge."

Cardinal said her group is also targeting swing districts, although the TV ads are running in frequent rotation across the metro.

"We're running these the next two weeks and see where things are at with negotiations -- or the lack thereof," she said.

Giga said his group too will play things a bit by ear.

"If we've got a feeling that a resolution is in the works, we'll do something more," Giga said. "The message will be the same, but we're not sure yet of what the medium will be."

Both parties have featured the budget meltdown and potential July 1 government shutdown on their websites, but so far, the Republicans have been more aggressive in reaching out to supporters.

State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton sent a fundraising letter to the party's mailing list, asking for contributions to "get the message out to put the pressure on Dayton to make the right choice for those who actually pay the bills and agree to NOT raise taxes!"

Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973

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