Campaign spending called ‘unprecedented’
Mike Goggin expected to see plenty of money pouring into the Senate District 21 race but even the newly elected senator is shocked by the spending totals.
Recently filed campaign reports show about $1 million was pumped into the race between Goggin and DFL Sen. Matt Schmit. The vast majority of that money came from outside groups.
“That really surprises me that there was that much money spent on the race. That’s a lot of money, and I can’t see how we can get into that kind of money being spent,” said Goggin, a Republican from Red Wing.
In fact, the Senate District 21 race turned out to be the most expensive race in southeast Minnesota in 2016, according to preliminary reports released this week by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. More than $962,000 was spent by outside groups and candidates in the district ahead of the November election.
More than $31 million was spent on legislative races during the 2016 election, according to a St. Paul Pioneer Press analysis of campaign data. A handful of legislative races across the state saw more than $1 million in spending.
Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said last year’s campaign spending is “unprecedented.” Third-party groups focused their spending on a small number of House and Senate seats across the state.
“We have a small number of seats in the House and Senate that determine control for the Legislature, and we are seeing third party-groups spend a lot of money on those very few seats,” Schultz said.
Also fueling the high amount of spending is the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which allows unlimited amounts of money to be spent by corporations and unions in support of candidates, according to Schultz.
Money doesn’t guarantee a win
But the reports show money doesn’t guarantee a win. In three of the four most expensive races in southeast Minnesota, the Republican candidate with less money won. Goggin, Rep. Barb Haley, of Red Wing, and Rep. Greg Davids, of Preston, all defeated their more well-financed opponents. In Senate District 21, more than $614,000 was spent in support of Schmit by outside groups and his campaign. That compared to more than $348,000 for Goggin’s campaign.
Goggin said he knew he was being dramatically outspent during the election. As such, he focused his energy on getting out to meet the district’s voters.
“I just said, ‘Let’s make it a simple campaign,’ and I’ve just got to get in front of the voters and that’s what I did. Every day after work, I got in my truck and headed out,” he said.
Schmit did not respond to a request for an interview.
Schultz said when it comes to campaigning, money isn’t everything. It is important to have strong candidates with a good message. The candidate’s party also needs to be putting forward a compelling argument for why they should be elected. It’s also important to look at what is happening on the federal level. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump did well in rural and suburban parts of the state. That was the case in Senate District 21, where Trump had a resounding win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Candidates frustrated by lack of control
Another big takeaway from the latest batch of campaign reports is how little money is coming from candidates in the big, expensive races. Take the case of House District 25B, where a total of $621,375 was spent. Of that money, 14 percent came from the two candidates — former Republican Rep. Fran Bradley and DFL Rep. Duane Sauke, both of Rochester.
Sauke ended up winning the race. He said it was frustrating to see outside groups sending out attack mailers against his opponent — especially when that is something he would not allow his own campaign to do.
“I was offended by (the negative mailers), but there was nothing I could do about it. And I was mostly frustrated by the fact that it was going to happen and it didn’t matter what I did, said or anything,” Sauke said.
The House District 25B race was also the most lopsided in terms of spending for southeast Minnesota races. More than $534,000 was spent in support of Sauke compared to $173,614 for Bradley.
In the midst of the campaign, Bradley said he and his advisers estimated he was being outspent by about 3-to-1, so he is not surprised by the final fundraising numbers. The Rochester Republican said he is disheartened by all of the spending by outside groups and, if he had his way, all spending would have to come directly from the candidates’ campaigns.
“This independent expenditure phenomenon — to me, it’s disgusting,” Bradley said. “I hate to see it. I’m old fashioned probably, but I’d still like to see candidates have to win their own.”