A political unknown who had never given campaign contributions before pumped big money into the 2018 election, especially to Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Charlie Kratsch is the CEO and majority shareholder of Infinite Campus — a Blaine-based educational software firm — who gave $40,000 to a political fund set up to help Walz before the Democratic primary and another $200,000 to the Minnesota Democratic Party in October. He gave $20,000 more to the party’s federal account and $20,000 to Klobuchar’s campaign and affiliated political groups, according to recently released campaign finance reports.
Infinite Campus donated $50,000 to Walz’s inaugural celebration, according to IRS documents — an amount matched only by two labor unions that are traditional Democratic allies.
The company does not have contracts with the state Department of Education, and Kratsch said in interviews this week that his business and his newfound interest in politics are not related.
“After the 2016 election, I sat back and looked at what was happening politically and decided that it’s time to get in the game,” said Kratsch, whose company employs just shy of 500.
Kratsch, who said he was incensed by the confirmation hearings of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was part of a small coterie of wealthy donors who supported Minnesota Democrats, especially Walz.
“I met [Walz] very early. I was very impressed. He’s a former teacher. We’re in the education business. He struck me as exactly what Minnesota needed,” he said.
The company sells its products nationwide, and Kratsch said if he was really seeking access or influence for his business he would have spread his money around to legislators in both parties, which is a common tactic in many industries. He acknowledged that Walz’s plan to spend more on schools would indirectly help companies like his, as districts could invest more in technology.
But Kratsch said he has a larger ideological project — supporting candidates like Walz and Klobuchar whom he considers centrists. Moderates like himself are currently without a home in the GOP, he said.
He also said he fears that Democrats are having their “Tea Party” moment, where emboldened activists are tugging moderates to the ideological extreme.
“I was looking for politicians who can see both sides of an equation. His ‘One Minnesota’ message is something I believe in,” Kratsch said, referring to Walz’s campaign slogan. “We need to rebuild the moderate center of our political system.”
Gina Countryman, executive director of the Minnesota Action Network, which advocates for conservative candidates and causes, said Kratsch will be disappointed if he’s looking for a moderate in Walz.
“Walz’s budget promises on the spending side are astronomical. The only way he can balance them is through significant tax increases,” she said. “Gov. Walz cut a profile in Washington that fit his district, which was more moderate. We’re seeing that he always was a liberal but he kept those parts quiet.”
Kratsch confessed to being a political neophyte who quickly learned the role of money in the nation’s democracy.
He asked an acquaintance knowledgeable about politics how he could get involved. The acquaintance told him that in politics you need friends or money.
“I said, ‘I don’t have friends, but I do have money.’ ”