WASHINGTON -- Republican Stewart Mills III, who is running to unseat Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th Congressional District, launched his first ads this week in a substantive buy on television in Duluth and the Twin Cities against Obamacare.
"Every day I see how Obamacare is hurting small businesses and the middle class," Mills says, after saying he grew up in the family company stocking shelves and mopping floors. "As your congressman I'll replace it."
The campaign declined to give specifics but a Democratic source says the campaign sunk $170,000 in the buy on cable and network television in Duluth and Minneapolis/St. Paul. It is scheduled to run through July.
In last campaign finance reports, Mills reportedly had $350,000 cash on hand. His portion of his family's farm business is worth between $41 million and $150 million.
“It’s clear why millionaire Stewart Mills is avoiding the issues and hiding behind his TV ads, because when the cameras aren’t rolling he says what he actually thinks,” said Brandon Lorenz of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
This is the latest ad in the putative fight this fall between Republicans and DFLers over Obamacare. Last week, Mike Obermueller, who is running against GOP incumbent Rep. John Kline, launched a pro-Obamacare ad in a tiny ad buy on MSNBC.
WASHINGTON -- Mike Obermueller's latest ad is certainly not the Democratic cookie cutter approach to winning an election this fall.
Taking pot shots at his GOP incumbent opponent Rep. John Kline in the 2nd Congressional District, Obermueller is actually running on the Affordable Care Act.
In a goofy one-minute ad that shows a bunch of men and women dancing around an office, Obermueller says his opponent's repeated criticism, including his multiple defunding votes, of the new health care law is "music" to the ears of insurance executives.
"If Congress repeals Obamacare, insurance companies will go back to charging whatever they want, charging women more for health coverage, denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and even dropping coverage when you get sick," a man's voice intones, while supposed insurance executives party down between file cabinets and conference tables. "If John Kline got his way, 11 million Americans would lose their coverage."
The ad will have limited viewers because it's a very small buy on cable only. A Republican source said the one-minute ad will run three times on MSNBC, costing the campaign $400.
Obermueller said Friday he would like to raise more money to keep the ad up for as long as possible and buy some time on network television. None of Minnesota's network stations, KMSP, KSTP, WCCO or KARE report any Obermueller buys, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
"Republicans have had the microphone for too long alone on this issue," Obermueller said. "We need to work to improve and fix this law ... not repeal it."
Obermueller's unique approach embracing Obamacare could prove risky in a state where it still isn't polling well. In a Suffolk University Political Research Center poll out April 29, 45 percent of Minnesotans called the law "generally bad" for the state and 41 percent said the Affordable Care Act is "generally good."
Kline's spokesman said Friday that Obermueller was desperate to revive a failed campaign. Obermueller lost to Kline two years ago by 8 points.
"Mr. Obermueller is grasping at straws to do anything he can to resuscitate his failed campaign based on a track record of supporting billion-dollar tax increases on working families and voting to specifically tax our veterans and our seniors," said Troy Young, in a statement.
Television and radio ads already airing to influence Minnesota voters in races for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and the governor's race and are unlikely to let up until Election Day.
Although the ads are coming late -- during the competitive U.S. Senate race in 2008 the air war was already months old by this point -- their appearance presages a barrage through November.
With potentially heated races for governor and U.S. Senate as Republicans work to wrest both offices from Democrats who won their first races by narrow margins, candidates and their allies will battle across the state's airwaves. National interests see the 8th Congressional District, which has flopped between Democratic and Republican control in recent years, as ripe for a turn over and therefore overdue for more ads.
In the governor's race, Republican Marty Seifert plans to launch his first ad this week, his campaign said on Wednesday. It is the first TV spot in the race that will determine whether DFL Gov. Mark Dayton keeps his job. Andy Post, Seifert's campaign manager, said the ad will run during the Minnesota Wild's Friday night game.
Seifert is in a pitched battle to woo Republicans at the party's endorsing convention this month and the GOP will likely also have a crowded primary in August. Businessman Scott Honour, another contender for Republican votes, has also been running radio ads.
Dayton, who has amassed larger campaign coffers than any of the Republicans running against him, has not yet started television ads. He is focused on the legislative session and unlike in his first election, does not face a primary. His campaign manager Katharine Tinucci said he has the resources to run ads when the time comes but, "that time is not now."
Minnesota viewers may see and hear more ads in the other statewide contest -- the race for the U.S. Senate.
In that race, the most significant candidate media spending has come from Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken. This week started a six figure television ad campaign. He has raised more than all but a few sitting senators so likely has the resources to keep it up.
Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden started running cable ads a few weeks ago and Republican rival Julianne Ortman began radio ads late last month.
That's only a taste. When Franken first ran, he and then-Sen. Norm Coleman, spent millions on dozens of television ads blasting Minnesotans right until their recount began.
Outside groups are also gearing up. A conservative group launched an anti-Franken ad way back in March.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce included Republican U.S. House candidate Stewart Mills in its $3 million television ad campaign to jump-start Republican campaigns "and unite the business community around their efforts,” Scott Reed, the chamber’s senior political strategist, told the New York Times.
The Minnesota House appears unlikely to approve a measure to bring now secret political spending into the sunshine this year, House Speaker Paul Thissen said on Tuesday.
"I think it would be very difficult to pass that bill this year because of opposition from certain interest groups," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
The measure, which had the strong backing of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, would require groups that spend money on Minnesota politics to reveal their spending and donors, no matter what type of group they are.
Such undisclosed spending has grown in the state but, because much of it comes from political nonprofits and the ads avoid certain words that trigger disclosure, it currently need not be reported to the state's campaign finance agency. The measure is one of several designed to reveal more information about the influence over and conflicts of the state's politicians.
Chief sponsor of the disclosure measure, DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler said without the new law there are big loopholes "that these groups can drive truckloads of cash through."
But some -- particularly the influential National Rifle Association and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life -- believed the law would have wrecked havoc on the work they do to inform voters.
“These fatally flawed bills pose a grave risk to freedom of speech in Minnesota and impose excessive regulatory burdens on political and commercial interests,” the NRA told supporters in March.
Thissen started this year saying that he thought the House was ready to pass the disclosure bill and has said he personally supports it. But on Monday, he halted debate on the issue when Winkler brought the measure up on the floor, which speakers rarely do to members of their own party, and Tuesday he said he not gotten enough DFLers on board to pass the bill yet this year.
"We trying to get to that point, but we haven't been able to convince all of our members," Thissen said on Tuesday.
Winkler, of Golden Valley, said he will continue to push the measure next year, if he wins his seat again.
The Minnesota campaign finance board cleared the Minnesota Republican Party and the Senate Republicans' campaign arm of 2012 violations, according to a recently released decision.
The agency found that the Republicans made some mistakes on their year-end reports, filed which made it harder to track the party's independent spending on senate races but the errors were inadvertent and fixed through corrections made last month.
"There is no basis to believe that the costs related to the independent expenditures were deliberately misreported. Instead, the record before the Board points to an attempt to report all of the associated costs that was foiled in part by an incomplete understanding of how to use the Campaign Finance Reporter software," the board wrote in closing its investigation.
The investigation was prompted by a DFL Party complaint, filed in January, which accused the Republicans of hiding 2012 spending.
In response to the investigation, the Republican Party treasurer Bron Scherer said the way the Republican Party and the Republican Senate committees did their reporting may have "created a potential for confusion" but the spending was not hidden. The board largely agreed.
In response to the decision, Republican Party Chair Keith Downey accused of the DFL of creating "media bluster" with its complaint.
In a statement, he said he hoped the board's conclusion, "will stop Democrats from filing a complaint and convicting us in the press before the Board even conducts its review."
The board this week also cleared the DFL of violations in response to a GOP complaint.
In January, Republican Party accused the DFL of blurring the lines between independent campaign work and House candidates by using photographs that were not publicly available. The board concluded that the DFL did independently obtain the photographs and found the DFL did not violate the rules of independence.
The recent GOP complaint has echoes of a 2012 Republican complaint. That one concluded in December 2013 and resulted in one of the largest campaign finance fines in state history.
Here's the board conclusion on the Republican Party matter: