Money race adds to Minnesota GOP's woes

The party, facing fines and debts, has received $99,000 from donors in 2012, compared with $2.2 million for DFL.

DFLers appear to hold at least a temporary advantage over Republicans as they head into a fierce battle for control of the Legislature, with the state GOP lagging far behind in the money race.

Campaign finance reports show that donors have sent $2.2 million to the state DFL Party since January. Even though they hold the majority in both the Minnesota House and Senate, the state Republican Party reported just $99,000 in donations for that same period.

"Obviously, anybody who has been paying attention knows that we have been going through some fairly significant problems," Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge said Tuesday, as state parties and candidates disclosed their 2012 fundraising numbers. "We're digging out and we are doing it as fast as we possibly can."

The GOP has been plagued by problems that date back to the end of last year, when a sex scandal caused a Senate leadership shakeup and money woes forced the resignation of the state party chairman. Shortridge took over a party in disarray, deeply in debt and at one point facing eviction from its state headquarters.

Donors fled and, judging from the recently released reports, have yet to fully return.

The state GOP still owes $848,000 in unpaid bills and last month was hit with a still-unpaid fine of $26,200 for violating campaign finance rules.

"We clearly have more work to do between now and the election but ... I'm growing more comfortable with where we are," said Shortridge, who took control after a hastily-called election on New Year's Eve.

DFL has debt, too

The DFL's numbers aren't all good. It too carries a sizable debt, one of $310,000. But the party also has its largest fundraiser of the year this weekend, with former President Bill Clinton headlining an event expected to haul in another $750,000.

Debt aside, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said the reports from the two parties "couldn't be more stark."

The DFL boasts some hefty contributions, including $302,500 from Alida Messinger, a large contributor to Democratic causes and former wife of Gov. Mark Dayton. Education Minnesota gave $229,857 and the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota contributed $225,000.

By contrast, the state GOP's biggest cash influx came not from donors, but from the state convention and other registration fees amounting to $156,852.

Of its $99,000 in donations, three donors -- Pawn America owner Bradley Rixmann, former Target CEO Robert Ulrich and KSTP owner Stanley Hubbard and his wife -- account for $85,000 of that.

Both parties cash-poor

Neither party starts the primary season with much cash on hand, according to state reports.

The DFL had $46,000 in the bank in the third week of June; the GOP half that amount.

Shortridge said that while his party's finances are not "by any stretch of the imagination" where he'd like them to be, he contends that the money is starting to come back.

Job One, he said, has been "restoring the trust and credibility of our donors, whether they are $5 or $5,000."

Money alone will not determine who wins in November. Two years ago DFLers posted bigger numbers than Republicans, but the GOP still wrested control of the Legislature.

The DFL House and Senate caucus committees have raised a combined $2.7 million so far, with $2.5 million cash on hand as of July 23.

The House and Senate Republicans together raised just over $1 million and had a combined $1.8 million cash on hand.

All four caucus committees started the year with funds left over from 2011, which boosted their cash on hand for this year. Unlike the parties, the legislative committees are debt-free.

Senate Republicans, who two years ago took control of the upper chamber for the first time in modern history, raised the least cash this year of any legislative caucus -- $410,000. That may be a consequence of last year's imbroglio with Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch stepping down after her affair with a top aide was revealed.

But Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, the Rochester Republican who took over after Koch, said he's not worried.

"We're planning on raising substantially more, so we will be fine," Senjem said.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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