The Minneapolis mayoral race may soon vault into the big money leagues after supporters of Mark Andrew said Friday they've formed an independent committee that allows them to spend unlimited funds in support of his candidacy.

The move has the potential to upend what has remained a largely small-dollar campaign, reliant on $500 donations per person. Independent expenditure groups such as the just-formed "Coalition for a Better Minneapolis" are not bound by the same restrictions, though they cannot coordinate with the candidate's campaigns.

It opens the door for supporters of the former Hennepin County commissioner to get the word out to more voters through mail, advertising or other means. Andrew already led the pack of 35 candidates in fundraising, raking in more than $272,000 from about 1,200 donors when reports were released earlier this month. He was followed by City Council Member Betsy Hodges, who took in more than $188,000 from more than 1,000 donors.

Other groups may be formed on behalf of other candidates, such as Hodges, who has the support of some other entities experienced in independent expenditures.

The coalition's chairman, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation head Bill McCarthy, said he expects that independent expenditure spending "would probably run fairly close" to candidate spending by the end of the election. He declined to disclose the group's fundraising goals, major donors or plans for spending the money.

Direct mail and phone calls are two likely spending targets, since they can be aimed squarely at specific Minneapolis residents. Another possibility is television or radio ads. Only Dan Cohen and Jackie Cherryhomes have run ads on television. Cohen and Andrew have ads running on radio — Andrew's are in Spanish.

Some donors known

Two donors are known: Firefighters union president Mark Lakosky said they have contributed to the effort, while Minneapolis publisher Vance Opperman said he has committed to giving money.

Another possibility is the building trades union, whose business manager Dan McConnell said two weeks ago that they had been approached about contributing to such a group.

The full list of donors will be revealed in campaign filings on Oct. 29, a week before the election.

The treasurer of the group is Kendal Killian, an activist who works for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. He said MAPE is not involved, however.

As for whether the group will be working on messaging that is critical of other candidates, McCarthy would not discuss specifics."Our effort is to get the message out about Mark's leadership," he said. "And I think that's about as far as I'm willing to go."

Andrew spokeswoman Marion Greene said while they cannot control the effort, "I can't say that we're totally surprised, given Mark's track record with progressives and the progressive community, that there would be organizations and individuals who want to come together to support him."

Transparency touted

The group had the option of filing with the state, which would preclude any disclosure of donors until 2014. Instead, it registered with Hennepin County, however, meaning that a donor and an expenditure report will be filed at the same time as the candidates' own reports.

It remains to be seen whether other groups chose the state registration route, making their finances opaque until well after Election Day.

"Mark Andrew believes in transparency and so do we," Killian said in a statement. "Instead of seeking out loopholes in campaign finance law, we will follow the same reporting rules as the campaigns themselves."

Opperman, a longtime Andrew friend and major donor to other DFL campaigns, said he pushed for the disclosure. He said he is waiting to see more details on other donors, the group's budget and what the money will be spent on before deciding how much to give.

"When [Andrew] first told me he was going to run, I encouraged him to do that," Opperman said. "Primarily because I wanted to see somebody with more than a decade of real entrepreneurship and business experience. And I didn't see that in most of the other candidates, with the possible exception of Jackie [Cherryhomes]."

Opperman said he likely would be reaching out to others to donate, including an attorney, an executive at a large medical device company and an entrepreneur "that works with me in the venture capital world."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper