Nonprofits benefit from closing of Pawlenty war chest

  • Article by: RACHEL STASSEN-BERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2009 - 1:31 PM

The end of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Minnesota political ambitions has turned into a boon for military families, cancer victims, the drug addicted teens and the state's Republicans.

Pawlenty today closed his state campaign finance committee and split his left over money - a hefty $574,000 - among nonprofits, the state Republican Party, and the party's state House and Senate campaign committees. The state Republican party received $204,000 and was the single biggest beneficiary of the end to Pawlenty's state political career. Pawlenty also gave $40,000 apiece to the state House and state Senate campaign committees.

Pawlenty gave slightly more money-- $290,892 in total -- to nonprofits than he did to his party. The charity beneficiaries range from Helping Paws, which provides service dogs to the disabled, to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which provides hearing aids to those in need and was founded by a big GOP donor. Of the non-profits, the Minnesota Teen Challenge, a drug treatment program with a Christian bent, got the single biggest chunk -- $85,892.

That Pawlenty, a possible 2012 presidential contender, was able to bestow such large sums to non-profit organizations is thanks to a former Democratic state Senator.

After former DFL Sen. Wes Skoglund decided he wouldn't run for re-election in 2006, he opted to give some of his leftover campaign cash to charities that helped his district and particularly his district's school kids.

"It is a way we thought that we could help," Skoglund said.

But the 31-year legislative veteran had a problem. According to the law at the time, he could donate no more than $100 of his campaign cash to non-profits. Since he had between $16,000 and $18,000 left over, that didn't seem quite right. Being a man who knew the legislative process, he set about to get the law changed.

With the help of his former colleagues and volunteer work from students at Minneapolis' South High, Skoglund did just that. Last year, Pawlenty signed a law that allows state politicians who are terminating their political committees to give an unlimited amount of money to non-profits.

State politicians closing down their campaign committees can also give unlimited cash to political party groups and more limited donations to state political candidates. Pawlenty chose not to do the latter.

Pawlenty could not have used any of the cash in his state campaign kitty on any potential run he may make for federal office.

Funds can't be transferred between state campaign committees and federal campaign committees, said Jeff Sigurdson, assistant executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

Rachel Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164

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