Business groups sitting on the sideline in MN governor's race

ST. PAUL - By this time four years ago, the race for governor saw plenty of spending on advertising by groups independent of the political parties and the campaigns.

ST. PAUL - By this time four years ago, the race for governor saw plenty of spending on advertising by groups independent of the political parties and the campaigns.

In that election cycle, business groups in particular spent heavily on behalf of Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, who lost the election to Democrat Mark Dayton. But this year, those groups haven't been as active for Republican Jeff Johnson who aims to block Dayton from a second term.

Instead, the spending has so far been lopsided, with the DFL Party and the liberal group Alliance for a Better Minnesota spending the bulk of the money on ads.

"It seems like schools are not Jeff Johnson's priority," an announcer says in a recent television ad. "Jeff Johnson cut early childhood spending."

The biggest difference this year is how much less money business groups are spending than they did in 2010.


Instead of spending on the governor's race, the Minnesota Business Partnership, which includes the CEOs of the state's biggest companies, is focusing on helping Republicans regain control of the Minnesota House.

"If you only have a limited amount of resources, we found that focusing them on a few House races makes more sense than it does to try to jump into the governor's race where you have to spend millions of dollars to try and move the needle," said Charlie Weaver, the group's executive director. "That's not the kind of resources that we have."

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce endorsed Johnson's campaign for governor earlier this month, but it isn't clear what comes along with that endorsement.

Laura Bordelon, the chamber's senior vice president for advocacy, said the group is telling its members about Johnson. But she declined to say whether the chamber will buy TV ads.

"We won't share what our election strategy is on any of these races including the governor's race," Bordelon said. "None of the other groups share that. I think it would be foolish for us to do so as well."

The chamber is running a radio ad in St. Cloud criticizing Dayton. It contends that he has harmed the state's economy with excessive taxes and spending.

Minnesota's Future, which received funding from business groups and the Republican Governor's Association in 2010, also is running a radio ad in rural Minnesota criticizing Dayton. Although spokesman Chris Tiedeman wouldn't commit to spending any money on TV ads he doesn't believe business leaders are sitting on the sidelines.

Tiedeman, a Republican National Committeeman, said part of the problem is that Republicans were forced to wait until a winner emerged from the August primary. He said he expects spending to pick up.


"I don't know at the end of the day what the budgets will be, but the outside groups are playing in this race," Tiedeman said.

According to public records at Twin Cities TV stations, the conservative group called the Freedom Club is running ads on Johnson's behalf. Public records show that group spent $400,000 this cycle -- a fraction of what Democratic groups have committed to spending.

Freedom Club representatives could not be reached for comment.

The conservative group Minnesota Jobs Coalition also spent $10,000 on anti-Dayton ads on Twin Cities television stations in June but hasn't run any ads since. The group's chair, Ben Golnik, said he hopes the business community will start spending more on the governor's race because Republicans will have a stronger shot at picking up seats in the Minnesota House if the governor's race is competitive.

"These House races don't happen in a vacuum," Golnik said. "They're very closely tied together and we need a close, competitive governor's race to really pick up a significant number of seats in the Minnesota House."

Johnson hopes to start running ads by the end of this month. He also said several individual business leaders have given to his campaign. Some have also given to Dayton. They include the owners of the Minnesota Twins and the CEOs of Best Buy, Pawn America and the Mayo Clinic.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former chair of the Carlson Companies and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Wheelock Whitney also donated to Dayton's campaign.

Johnson said he's not worried about the lack of business spending so far.


"I've got to run my campaign," he said. "There's nothing I can do about outside groups, and if they weigh in later that is fantastic and helpful but, honestly, I'm worried about what we’re going to put up on TV."

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