Gov. Mark Dayton held a fundraiser at a Summit Avenue home last week on the night before the Legislature convened for its opening day of 2016, drawing influential lobbyists with a range of business before the state.
That may seem surprising given DFLer Dayton's repeated insistence that he is not running for re-election, but even governors done with electoral politics need money for such purely political activities, as polling, political travel or funds to stoke grass-roots support for their key initiatives.
More surprising than the fundraiser was that it was deemed so important that Jaime Tincher, Dayton's chief of staff, was directly involved by soliciting donors via her campaign — not government — e-mail account. "It's really important to me that we make this a successful and well-attended evening," reads an e-mail obtained by the Star Tribune, sent from Tincher's Dayton campaign address.
The fundraising plea illustrates the sometimes-blurry line between elected officeholders and their political campaigns, in which loyal staffers often bounce back and forth during the election cycle to ensure separation.
Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership and former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty's first chief of staff, called the solicitation "unusual," echoing several lobbyists. But Weaver emphasized that there's nothing wrong with Tincher raising money as long as she did not use a government e-mail address.
The event was hosted by reliable DFL fundraisers, including lobbyists whose clients have millions of dollars at stake in sectors like banking, mining, alcohol, construction and health care. Tincher declined to comment.
Linden Zakula, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said Dayton's fundraising team actually drafted the e-mail in question but that Tincher approved it on her own time.
"Our fundraising carefully follows Minnesota's strict campaign finance laws," Dayton said. "It is common practice to ask for contributions just before the Legislature convenes, as fundraising is prohibited during the session."
Last year, Dayton raised $112,650 while spending $97, 657 on polling, consulting, salaries and other disbursements, according to campaign finance reports. The effort comes despite Dayton's repeated statements that he is not running for a third term.
Dayton, who has a campaign-paid fundraiser who organizes the events, is correct that presession fundraisers are common. The House and Senate DFL held a joint fundraiser the day before the session, as did House Republicans.
In all three cases, however, outside political operatives who do not work for state government did the soliciting, according to the caucuses.
Staff members for governors and legislators often do campaign work, either by taking a leave for a campaign job or by volunteering for an official running for re-election.
Thomas Kukielka, a key aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, is listed as treasurer of the DFL Senate Caucus. Ben Golnik, chief of staff to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, came from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, an outside political group that helped the GOP take the House in 2014.
Tincher is entrenched in DFL politics. She managed the House DFL's redistricting strategy after the last census and ran the campaign of DFL gubernatorial candidate and former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, whom Dayton defeated in a party primary. Tincher's husband, Adam Duininck, whom Dayton selected last year to be chairman of the Metropolitan Council, was once executive director of WIN Minnesota, an important outside fundraiser in the DFL network.
As chief of staff, Tincher serves as a key policy adviser and liaison to the Legislature and also to outside political groups who are allies trying to push Dayton's agenda.
She was criticized last year after reminding a Republican lobbyist during a meeting over state broadband funding that his firm had beat up on DFLers.
Brian McClung, a key Pawlenty aide who is now a public relations strategist, said Pawlenty required a strict separation between official duties and campaign duties.
Said Dayton: "I see nothing wrong with any of us asking for those contributions on our own time."