Interest groups plan campaigns to sway public opinion on shutdown

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2011 - 8:43 PM

A reprise of the May PR battle has begun, with liberal, conservative and labor groups likely to buy ads.

As soon as the government shut down, the spin machine opened for business.

Interest groups are gearing up campaigns to influence the eventual outcome of the state budget battle.

Most campaigns weren't in full swing yet on Friday, the beginning of the holiday weekend, but they were shaping up as a rerun of the public lobbying that flourished after the legislative session ended in May without a budget agreement.

First out of the chute was the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a liberal group that also was the first to take to the airwaves and Internet a month ago. It spent more than $600,000 to endorse Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed tax increase as the right way to close the state's yawning budget deficit.

In radio ads that were to begin airing Saturday on stations in Duluth, Brainerd and Bemidji, aimed for the ears of vacationing Minnesotans, the Alliance places blame for the shutdown squarely on Republican majorities in the Legislature.

"This Fourth of July holiday weekend won't be much fun for a lot of Minnesotans," the ad states. "You see, the Republicans in the Legislature refused to compromise -- and instead shut down the government."

Next up, possibly as soon as next week, will be Minnesota Majority, a conservative group that also weighed in during the post-session ad wars.

The organization plans to pose the question in ads, "Is Governor Dayton a man of his word?" said Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority. It will feature a clip of then-candidate Dayton saying last year that he wouldn't shut down state government.

Organized labor, which contributed to the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, also expects to enter the fray.

The local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents the largest number of state employees, is likely to launch an ad campaign, but details haven't yet been worked out, a spokesman said.

In June, AFSCME and other public employee unions spent $300,000 on a statewide ad buy that declared their members "want to work for Minnesota."

Starting next week, AFSCME will conduct phone banks throughout the state in an attempt to pressure GOP legislators to move toward Dayton's position.

Still to be heard from are other groups that took the public-relations offensive after legislators went home, most notably the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, an umbrella group of 11 of the state's employer organizations. Last month, the group ran ads thanking Republican lawmakers for holding out against Dayton's tax plans.

For now, the coalition is holding its fire, said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. "Media campaigns tend to drive people apart rather than pull them together," he said. "We're going to spend the next few days trying to get this solved."

That said, he added, the coalition doesn't plan to "unilaterally disarm."

Also likely to weigh in as the shutdown continues are the state Republican and Democratic parties. A Republican spokeswoman didn't return calls seeking comment, but DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said "significant resources will be committed to put a serious effort together."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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