The biggest political committees working to influence the outcome of the policing charter question in Minneapolis have enlisted national firms as they craft their final pitches to voters.
When Yes 4 Minneapolis sought research in its effort to build support for the proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, it hired Lake Research Partners, a Washington, D.C., firm which says it's done work for President Joe Biden and for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Amendment opponent All of Mpls hired AKPD Media, created by a former adviser to Barack Obama, for ads and mailers. For polling, the group used ALG Research, which did work for Biden.
Those expenses — and many others — were detailed in campaign disclosure reports released Wednesday, six days ahead of the historic election in which Minneapolis residents will vote on policing for the first time since George Floyd's killing.
Groups on opposing sides of the debate both reported bringing in seven-figure sums as they seek to sway voters, money that came from a mix of large donors and individuals giving smaller amounts. They sought help with ads, mailers and other services from a mix of Minnesota-based groups and firms across the country.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, the group that wrote the proposal, raised nearly $1.5 million over three months, bringing its yearly fundraising total to just shy of $2.5 million so far. Their largest donors in the latest round included Minneapolis-based activist group Reclaim the Block, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington, D.C.-based Open Society Policy Center.
Yes 4 Minneapolis spent the bulk of its money on advertising from multiple firms and staff salaries. The reports also showed the group paid about $71,000 and owes another $47,000 to Hellmuth & Johnson, the law firm that represented it during a contentious court battle over how to phrase the question on the ballot.
Opponents say they fear the money Yes 4 Minneapolis is accepting from groups outside the city is drowning out the voices of residents.
Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for All of Mpls, said they "knew from the beginning" that it would be an intense election season based on Yes 4 Minneapolis' "deep pockets."
"For voters, it isn't lost on them the fact that there is national interest in changing Minneapolis' policing and public safety structure by people who are not going to have to live here and deal with the consequences of it," Fatehi said.
Representatives for Yes 4 Minneapolis didn't respond to messages on Wednesday but just one day earlier defended their donations. JaNaé Bates, a spokesperson for the group, said she believes opponents are presenting only a partial picture of their spending.
"It feels very underhanded," she said. "It seems to be a very opaque process on the opposition's side. These are big, giant corporations who know ways in which to maneuver through this that makes it so that they do not have to tell everyone everything."
All of Mpls raised nearly $1.5 million in the past three months, bringing its total so far this year to just under $1.6 million. Its biggest donation came from Plan for Progress, a new group that registered with the state in late September and gave $585,000. One of the group's listed phone numbers rings back to Fatehi, who said she helped set up the group's initial paperwork.
"A good number of us that are involved in All of Mpls really recognized that the work to bring about changes to policing and public safety reform efforts, some of those efforts are at the local level but a lot of those efforts also need to happen at the state level," she said.
The group's chair, Karin Birkeland, said in e-mails that their donors "are Minnesotans who care about real reforms in policing" and that they intend to participate in both city-level and state-level races.
"We oppose Question 2 because it has no real reform, and will result in a step backward in efforts to transform the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department," Birkeland wrote.
The bulk of All of Mpls' spending went to ads, mailers and payroll for canvassers.
The spending in the fight over the Police Department is impacting other races as well. Some of Yes 4 Minneapolis' supporters, including TakeAction Minnesota, are endorsing and supporting candidates who back the proposal. All of Mpls endorses candidates who oppose it, including Mayor Jacob Frey. Fatehi worked on Frey's 2017 campaign, and her firm provided consulting for his campaign this year, before All of Mpls launched.
The spending and fundraising disclosed so far represent a snapshot of the money being funneled into the race. The next reports, which will capture activity in the final week leading to the election, aren't due until next year.
Groups that also participate in state-level races have the option to instead file with the state's campaign finance board. Because it's an off-year for state races, groups reporting there aren't required to file reports until early 2022. A new state law will close that loophole for groups participating in city-level races, but it doesn't take effect until next year.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994