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Continued: Spending on Minnesota legislative races has doubled in 10 years

But that wasn’t because of Dorholt. The 32-year-old marriage and family counselor spent a total of $26,000 on his race, compared with $40,000 spent by Banaian. Interest groups flooded the race with another $488,000.

“I’ve never experienced drowning before, but that’s a little what it felt like,” said Banaian, a professor of economics at St. Cloud State University.

Preparing for battle in 2014

Next year may get even more explosive. Republicans are desperate to break the Democrats’ top-to-bottom control of state government, which includes the governor’s office, both chambers of the Legislature and every constitutional office. DFLers are just as eager to turn their short-term victory into a more permanent majority. Political interests also are preparing for battle.

In a series of private meetings, Republicans and some business interests are talking about pooling their resources as never before, to turn their Capitol goals into electoral reality. Calling their past efforts haphazard and using DFLers as a model, they have vowed to unify.

“I think it’s important to get things done because the election isn’t that far off,” Stanley Hubbard, chairman of Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., said this summer. Hubbard has long been a major GOP donor in Minnesota.

But DFLers are not sitting back.

“The members of the organizations that we represent remember the disaster of the 2011-12 legislative session and the victories for working families in 2013,” said Carrie Lucking, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, referring to the period when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. “They will have a strong interest in maintaining middle-class majorities.”

Fueled by cash from unions and wealthy Minnesotans, the Alliance poured nearly $2 million into independent expenditures in targeted legislative races last year.

Only the DFL Party, with $3.5 million in independent spending on legislative races, spent more in 2012.

Legislators, stunned at the level of outside money pouring into their races, are working to take back their races.

In the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton and a bipartisan majority of legislators approved higher spending and contribution limits for Minnesota candidates — the first increase in more than a decade.

Those new limits raise the amount individuals can give to House candidates by nearly 70 percent. House candidates now can also spend $60,000 — up from $41,000 — and still get campaign subsidies. Similar increases were approved for other candidates as well.

“This is a direct reaction to the large amounts of money that are being spent by third parties in elections that leave candidates, very often, without the ability to have very much of a voice in their own elections,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said during debate on the issue.

The effect of PACs

Ten years ago, parties and political action committees (PACs) sought influence by donating money directly to the candidates, giving those on the ballot power over how the money was spent.

Now those groups spend the cash themselves, giving them tight control over the tone and timing of political messages.

In the Dorholt-Banaian contest, the race to represent a district of fewer than 40,000 residents and 81 square miles drew money from labor groups, the DFL Party, the national super PAC Progressive Kick, the state House Republican Campaign Committee, the pro-Republican Minnesota’s Future and other assorted business and liberal interests.

  • About this data

    The Star Tribune compiled spending amounts using electronic data supplied by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board. Altogether, the Star Tribune analyzed data from more than 5,000 individual filings.

    Campaign spending represents direct campaign expenditures as reported by the candidates to state regulators for the election cycle, and do not include indirect expenses, transfers or other expenses. Spending by political action committees and parties represents the total independent expenditures those organizations reported in independent expenditures for each district. The district-by-district breakdowns do not include donations that political action committees and parties made to candidates. Legally, candidates can control the money they spend but not the money that parties or political action committees spend.

    The state’s campaign finance board considers the paper filings that candidates, parties and political action committees report to be the official record and the electronic filings contain some imperfections. “The electronic data is not verified against the original data or otherwise checked for data entry errors,” the campaign finance board says.

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