ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The quest for cash is on in Minnesota's 2016 elections. New campaign finance reports released Tuesday show political groups and candidates have already socked away millions of dollars for the fight for control of the Legislature.
Election Day is still 10 months away and neither fundraising efforts nor candidate spending are in full swing, but the reports detailing donations and spending throughout 2015 have set the tone. With no statewide candidates on the ballot, legislative races and the battle for House and Senate majorities will get more attention — and money — than usual.
STATE RACES IN SPOTLIGHT
It's the first contest since 2004 in which the governor's office, a constitutional office or a U.S. Senate seat is not up for grabs.
All 201 legislative seats are up for re-election, and while Republicans aim to maintain their control of the House, Democrats will defend their Senate majority. That frees up the cash that outside political groups have generally reserved for bigger-ticket races.
Fundraising reports showed a modest uptick in donations compared to the same pre-election year period in 2012, which was the last presidential contest that also included a U.S. Senate seat.
Major Democratic outfits like the Alliance for Better Minnesota and WIN Minnesota have stashed $60,000 and $276,000, respectively. On the Republican side, the Minnesota Action Network has $97,000 saved up, while the Freedom Club State PAC stored away more than $114,000.
Those sums will keep growing as Election Day approaches, and groups' spending on independent advertisements won't ramp up until the field of legislative races solidifies.
It pays to be in the majority.
Senate Democrats hauled in more than $1 million last year, besting the GOP rival campaign, which raised $479,000, by more than a two-to-one margin. Democrats have a 12-seat margin in the Senate.
In the House, where Republicans are guarding an 11-seat margin, the GOP held a narrow fundraising lead, bringing in $1.1 million vs. Democrats' $1 million haul.
New political dynamics are up for grabs, but familiar names will spend their money.
Republican mega-donors like Stanley Hubbard, head of Hubbard Broadcasting, and Bob Cummins cut big checks last year. Hubbard split $240,000 among the state's Republican Party and House and Senate GOP campaign organizations. Cummins, a longtime donor to Republicans and social conservative causes, wrote the state party a $200,000 check last year, and also gave the Freedom Club State PAC $25,000.
Among Democrats, Alida Messenger, a philanthropist and Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife, doled out more than $340,000 to DFL-aligned political groups. Investment manager and longtime DFL ally Vance Opperman also spread out at least $345,000 to Democratic party groups and outside organizations.
But the reports from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board don't provide a complete picture, since some groups operate outside the traditional regulatory system and don't have to disclose donor and spending information.
Groups from outside Minnesota are eyeing the possible shift in power, too.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national outfit aiming to bring the DFL back to power in the House, reported raising $576,000 in its Minnesota account last year.
And while its Republican counterpart hasn't yet filed forms with the state, the Republican State Leadership Committee has pegged winning the Senate and keeping the House in Republicans hands as top priorities for 2016.
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