News Column

Mega-donors in Minnesota's gubernatorial race rmostly from metro area

May 27, 2014

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)



May 27--Most of the big-dollar donors to this year's race for governor are longtime givers who live near the Twin Cities and their suburbs, according to a Star Tribune analysis.

Of the nearly $3 million individuals have given to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the top five Republicans who hope to unseat him, those from Hennepin County have contributed more than $1 million. Among donors who gave at least $5,000 to Minnesota political causes since the start of 2013, the metro-centric fundraising is clear. More than 85 percent of the money from those big-dollar donors came from the metro area.

The findings show that those who would run the state next year are drawing on the rich in the near the urban and suburban areas to make their appeals.

This year's heated race for governor has brought new cash into Minnesota as well.

The founder of a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Gores Group, gave Republican candidate for governor Scott Honour$4,000 and $200,000 to Compete Minnesota!, a new independent spending committee that recently launched television ads supporting Honour.

Honour left his job as senior managing director at the Gores Group in 2012 to run for governor.

While Alec Gores has not given in Minnesota before, he has made significant federal contributions to both Democratic and Republican causes. Gores' spokesman Mike Sitrick said he "knows Mr. Honour well and believes he is an individual who would help Minnesota create jobs and become an even better place to live."

Dayton also has some wealthy allies on his side.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota is largely funded by groups that get much of their money from large-dollar donors, including Alida Messinger, Dayton's ex-wife and heir to the Rockefeller fortune. The Alliance has hammered on Dayton's GOP opponents for months. That work would certainly benefit Dayton, but helping him win re-election is not the Alliance's sole mission, said executive director Carrie Lucking.

"We weren't created to support a specific individual or a specific candidate," she said. She also noted that the Alliance works in other races, not just the governor's race.

Dayton, scion of the Dayton's department store family, spent nearly $4 million of his own money in his 2010 campaign. But so far, he has not self-funded his re-election campaign.

The state's major donors, however, have responded to his cash quest. Seventeen percent of his contributions come from 76 people who contributed significantly to DFL causes since January of last year. For the Republican candidates, 56 major donors represent 9 percent of all giving.

Nearly all that money, for both parties, has come from Minnesotans.

All of the major donors who gave to Republican hopefuls Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, state Sen. Dave Thompson and former state House Minority Leader Marty Seifert are from Minnesota. For Dayton and GOP candidate Kurt Zellers, that figure is more than 90 percent. Zellers, who is originally from North Dakota, received a little more than 20 percent of his cash from non-Minnesota residents.

Honour's fundraising has had a less Minnesota focus. He has received 56 percent of his cash from people who live outside of the state. But nearly 60 percent of his major contributors come from the Gopher state.

Some of those big donors have not focused on just one gubernatorial candidate.

Bob Cummins, founder of the high-spending conservative Freedom Club, and his wife Joan Cummins each gave the maximum candidate amount of $4,000 to Johnson, Thompson and Seifert.

Nine major donors have also hedged their bets by giving to both DFL incumbent Dayton and at least one Republican.

Among them is Bradley Rixman, CEO and owner of Pawn America, and an important figure in GOP donor circles in recent years. He had given $366,000 to the Minnesota Republican Party over the last decade and less than a tenth of that to any cause affiliated with Democrats.

But since the 2012 election, Rixman has given more to Democratic causes and candidates than Republican ones.

The reason, he said, is fairly simple. "Several years ago, the Republicans had come out many, many times and courted me," he said. "No one had reached out from the Democratic Party."

That has changed, as has his giving. Since January 2013, he contributed $22,500 to DFL causes, including $4,000 to Dayton, and only $17,250 to Republican ones, such as a $2,250 contribution to Zellers, a member of the House and the former House Speaker. "We've got to come together to be successful," Rixman said.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger -- Twitter: @RachelSB

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(c)2014 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


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