Minn. Political Donors Seek to Boost Clout by Contributing to Committees

September 21, 2006

Jim Deal, a 72-year-old Minnesota crop insurance company founder from Anoka County, decided to go big when he recently joined the ranks of major political donors.

Angered by Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s record on taxes, Deal didn’t parcel out his money to a string of candidates. Instead, he gave a cool $100,000 to Minnesotans for Change, a new political committee that’s running an ad campaign against the GOP incumbent.

“Minnesota’s on a disastrous collision course,” Deal said. “Obviously, I’m a liberal.”

Wealthy donors across the political spectrum are getting more bang for their bucks by giving unlimited contributions to parties and so-called independent political committees instead of smaller amounts, capped by law, to candidates.

Bankrolled by recent big gifts, campaigns on various issues will be in play in this year’s election, raising the costs in spendy races for governor, U.S. Senate and Congress.

Robert Cummins, president of a Plymouth-based printing company and a longtime donor to conservative causes and the Republican Party, has given $323,000 since early 2005 to two groups pushing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

His donations add to up half the funding for Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage and Minnesota for Marriage.

“They are critical to us … very important,” said Gary Borgendale, pastor network coordinator for Minnesota for Marriage, of the gifts from Cummins. “It was, ‘Wow, this is cool, thank you very much.”‘

To the left, a Rockefeller heiress has provided more than half the funding for the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a political group sympathetic to Democrats.

Alida Messinger, U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton’s ex-wife and a seasoned donor to environmental and women’s groups and the Democratic Party, gave $625,000 to a group that has revenue of less than $1 million this year. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota is running radio and television ads attacking Pawlenty and is planning a door-to-door campaign.

Messinger declined to comment on her role as a donor, and Cummins did not return calls from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Nor did he immediately return a telephone message left at his office on Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Both donors have also stepped around normal reporting requirements by giving to groups called 527s. Those groups don’t have to report to the Federal Election Commission if they don’t push for or against specific candidates.

Messinger gave $4.4 million to 527s including a Democratic voter outreach group called America Coming Together, Planned Parenthood and Defenders of Wildlife Action from 2003 to 2006, according to IRS records reviewed by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

Cummins donated $108,000 to Republican-leaning 527s including $1,000 to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, which challenged Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam war record.

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