Minnesota Legislature: Campaign money pours in

Groups wishing to influence November's legislative elections or the marriage amendment vote have plenty of cash to play with.

Independent groups wanting to influence the makeup of the next Minnesota Legislature already have more than $2 million waiting to be spent -- and the campaign season is just beginning.

Four of the largest business-friendly, Republican-leaning organizations have about $700,000 cash in the bank. Four of the largest union-friendly, Democratic-leaning organizations have $1.51 million. The new numbers were made public Wednesday in state campaign finance reports.

The big numbers only begin to tell the story of the intense fight for control of the Legislature. Two years ago, it slipped from Democrats' hands as Republicans dominated races in district after district. Republicans are anxious to keep their majorities, while Democrats desperately want the reins back.

Before Minnesotans vote in November, they could see a legislative battle that breaks all spending records. The reports do not yet include the fundraising numbers from political parties. Those will add millions more to the total tab.

"I think everybody realizes there is a lot at stake," said David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber contributed more than $19,000 to the Pro Jobs Majority, one of several big groups with a business bent. The Chamber's own political committee has $35,440 in the bank. Olson said that while the Chamber tends to support Republicans, there are business-friendly Democrats who win its backing, too.

Separately, the Freedom Club, which supports conservative Republicans, has $280,000 in the bank. It has not begun spending or raising very much so far this year.

On the Democratic-leaning side, the reports show a small world of union, Democratic organizations and DFL donors supporting the cause.

"I would say it's an efficient world," said the Alliance for a Better Minnesota's executive director, Carrie Lucking.

The Alliance has just under $50,000 cash on hand but has financial backing from the Minnesota 2012 Fund and WIN Minnesota, which combined have more than $1.2 million in the bank. Already this year, WIN Minnesota has donated $126,000 to Alliance for a Better Minnesota. WIN Minnesota received $25,000 from attorney and former U.S. Senate candidate Mike Ciresi and $500,000 from DFL donor Alida Messinger.

WIN Minnesota has also donated $100,000 to the 2012 Fund, which has support from various unions and received a $50,000 donation from frequent Democratic donor Vance Opperman.

Amendments dominate

Although the numbers are large, they may be dwarfed by the amounts being raised by proponents and opponents of the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Already, the two main groups have raised nearly $6 million since the Legislature voted in 2011 to put the question on this year's ballot.

Minnesota for Marriage, the lead group pushing the constitutional amendment, raised $588,547 from 25 donors since January, according to a new campaign finance report released Wednesday. The group has raised about $1.4 million since the campaign began a year ago.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund has already spent $472,454 to push the amendment, funneling $400,000 of that to Minnesota for Marriage. It raised most of its money from Knights of Columbus organizations and Catholic dioceses, including $28,000 from the diocese in Crookston and $50,000 each from the dioceses in Winona and St. Cloud.

The Minnesota Family Council Marriage Protection Fund also gave Minnesota for Marriage $150,000.

With nearly five months before the election, Minnesota for Marriage has $483,604 cash on hand.

The lead group opposing the amendment, Minnesotans United for All Families, raised $3.1 million from 16,000 contributors since January. It has nearly $1 million cash on hand. Minnesota United released the details of its report Tuesday.

The other constitutional amendment slated to be on the ballot has yet to see significant fundraising on either side. That amendment would require photo ID from voters before they vote.

ProtectMyVote.com, the main group supporting the amendment, has raised $75,805. ProtectMyVote.com's single biggest contributor was Joan Cummins, wife of Freedom Club stalwart Bob Cummins. She gave the group $50,000.

Our Vote Our Future, the main group trying to defeat the amendment, has raised about $50,357, much of it from a $22,804 in-kind contribution from the TakeAction Political Fund.

Before those groups can fight at the ballot box, they will fight in court. Next month, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the amendment should be dropped from consideration.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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