Huge sums tossed at ballot questions in '12

Spending by groups for and against constitutional questions totaled nearly $23 million.

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Opponents of an unsuccessful ballot effort to define marriage as between a man and a woman, including Cindy Amberger and Lynne Hvidsten (embracing) who have been a couple for 20 years, rallied outside the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The votes followed the money on constitutional questions in Minnesota last year, according to campaign finance reports made public on Friday.

The two groups opposing the marriage and the voter ID amendments spent about $15.6 million. The two main groups supporting the amendments spent just over $7 million.

Minnesotans, contrary to some early expectations, voted down both amendments in November.

The nearly $23 million spent on the constitutional questions is only part of the huge amounts of cash tossed at Minnesotans to influence their votes last year. The political parties added $24 million and outside groups spent at least $8 million more, creating what is likely the most expensive state-level contests Minnesota has seen.

The raising and spending was as lopsided as the results, which saw Minnesota voters not only vote against the two amendments but also swap a Republican-controlled Legislature for a DFL-controlled one.

Throughout last year, Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group that campaigned against the amendment to constitutionally ban gay marriage, brought in far more cash than Minnesota for Marriage, the main group campaigning for it.

"We were badly outspent," said Frank Schubert, a California-based consultant and Minnesota for Marriage campaign manager.

Minnesotans United spent more than $12 million. Now, it is moving to lobby the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage. The group has registered seven lobbyists to make that happen, although backers admit they currently lack the votes to pass a same-sex marriage bill.

'On defense'

Minnesota for Marriage spent about $5.7 million to back the amendment. Schubert said the group's fundraising was hurt because marriage-related campaigns were running in three other states. "We were on defense and we couldn't rally the rest of the country to come to Minnesota's defense," Schubert said.

The group's cash was still buoyed by large donations from the National Organization for Marriage and the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund. Catholic archdioceses and Knights of Columbus organizations from throughout the country added cash to the Catholic fund's coffers.

About 53 percent of Minnesotans voted against the marriage amendment in November, making the state the first to reject a ban on same-sex marriage.

Although the campaign over the marriage amendment built slowly over years, the contest over the photo ID amendment came into focus the closer Minnesotans got to voting.

When legislators first discussed proposals requiring voters to present photographic identification when they vote, most polls showed that the vast majority of Minnesotans supported the concept. But by late last year, more Minnesotans started to say they would vote against the photo ID constitutional question. The money followed that movement.

"As momentum was building on the 'no' side, more money came in the door and a lot came in late," said Greta Bergstrom, a former spokesperson for Our Vote Our Future, the main organization campaigning against the measure.

In September of last year, Our Vote Our Future had raised about $600,000. By the end of 2012, the group had raised almost $3.2 million. Among the late donations: $250,000 from Washington, D.C.-based America Votes, $182,000 from California-based Moveon.org and $175,000 from Alida Messinger, Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife and a key donor to liberal causes.

The campaign to support the amendment, called ProtectMyVote.com, spent about $1.45 million, according to campaign manager Dan McGrath. The majority of its money -- $1.3 million -- came from Joan Cummins, who is listed on campaign finance reports as a "self-employed homemaker." She is married to millionaire Bob Cummins, who gives to conservative causes.

Tracking the parties

According to new records, the Republican Party and the two party organizations that sought to keep the state Legislature in GOP hands spent almost $7 million on the 2012 Minnesota campaigns. According to Friday's report, the state Republican Party is carrying more than $800,000 in debt by its state committee. It also carried about $688,000 in federal debt into the new year.

The DFL and its two legislative committees spent almost $18 million, although the numbers include money the state party fed to the two legislative caucuses and cash the House and Senate caucuses paid to the party.

"I decided that the party was going to be very involved in raising money to win back the majority," said DFL Party chair Ken Martin. The DFL is carrying about $200,000 in state and federal debt, with much of that for legal fees that are on the way to repayment.

Minnesota can expect significant political spending again next year. Although there will not be any ballot measures soaking up cash, Dayton is up for re-election, as is the entire slate of constitutional officers and the Minnsota House.

Dayton, who self-financed more than half of his 2010 campaign, started 2013 with just $94,000 in his campaign account. He, like many in the Legislature, is pushing to raise the amount candidates are allowed to raise from donors.

"The bottom line is the campaign finance contribution limits ... [are] just almost prohibitive, in terms of the kind of fundraising that's necessary for a modern-era campaign," Dayton said on Friday.

Jennifer Brooks and Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb

  • $15.6M

    spent by two groups opposing constitutional amendments

    $7M

    spent by two groups supporting constitutional amendments

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