In Groups Shield Political Gifts of Businesses, an article first online in yesterday's New York Times by Mike McIntire and Nick Confessore, readers learn:
Beyond the contributions to large, established nonprofits like the chamber and American Action Network, corporate money is also quietly shaping the political discourse through more obscure groups, none of which are required to disclose their donors.
In Minnesota last year, Express Scripts, a major drug benefit manager, gave $10,000 to a Republican-linked group, Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting, involved in a partisan fight over redrawing legislative boundaries. Express Scripts made the donation, previously unreported, because the “electoral maps in Minnesota were in doubt and we supported efforts to bring certainty to Minnesota voters,” said Brian Henry, a spokesman for the company, which is based in St. Louis. He added that the firm has a facility in Bloomington, Minn.
Minnesotans for a Fair (Republican) Redistricting
Last year, MnIndy's Andy Birkey reported in Undisclosed money flows into Minnesota’s redistricting process:
Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting shares the same address and some staffers as the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative think tank, according to a ProPublica report. Fair Redistricting’s address is listed as that of Annette and Jack Meeks, a husband and wife duo active in Republican politics who work for Freedom Foundation. Annette Meeks was on Tom Emmer’s Republican ticket for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Freedom Foundation has worked with the Cato Institute on research and events, which was founded by Charles Koch. It is also part of the State Policy Network, a network of 59 state-based conservative think tanks. Freedom Foundation is listed as a “regular member,” while other Koch-backed groups such as Americans for Prosperity are listed as “associate members.”
Neither group legally needs to disclose donors. As ProPublica noted in their research, there is no direct evidence that either group is directly funded by the Koch brothers, who have bankrolled libertarian and conservative causes across the country. Annette Meeks denied any connection. Jack Meeks, who also serves on the board of the Freedom Foundation, did not return requests for comment by ProPublica.
But Freedom Foundation and Fair Redistricting are indeed very connected. In addition to sharing an address with the Meeks, the groups share staff.
Fair Redistricting is registered under Jack Meeks’ name; Jack is a member of the Freedom Foundation board. Chris Georgacus [sic] is heading up the Fair Redistricting effort and is also member of the Freedom Foundation board. Also working on redistricting for Republicans is lawyer Tony Trimble, who also sits on the Freedom Foundation board.
The Meeks are also known for their certainty that gambling is bad, bad, bad, as witnessed by their service in executive roles at Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE).
Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting is not registered with the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General Division of Charities, nor with the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board. Guidestar's entry for the organization notes that it is registered with the IRS but no reports are available for it.
In June 2011, MPR's Tom Sheck reported in Briggs and Morgan lines up on GOP side of redistricting battle:
The Republican Party of Minnesota is working with an independent group, "Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting," on redistricting efforts. . .
One of the citizens being represented by [former state Supreme Court Eric] Magnuson, Gregg Peppin, said a lot of the litigation work has been coordinated by the Minnesota Republican Party and "Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting." He said the filing indicates that Briggs and Morgan will be working with attorney Tony Trimble on redistricting efforts for Republicans in Minnesota.
"They told me they were going to get a litigator and this confirms that," Peppin said about Magnuson's filing.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton confirmed that Briggs and Morgan has been hired by "Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting" but said he or other members of the MNGOP have nothing to do with the hiring. He said former MNGOP Chair Chris Georgacus [sic, link added] is heading "Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting."
Scheck's article was cited by the ProPublica report, The Hidden Hands in Redistricting: Corporations and Other Powerful Interests. ProPublica investigators wrote in September 2011:
In Minnesota, for instance, the Republicans’ legal efforts to influence redistricting are being financed through a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.
Fair Redistricting describes itself as independent, but it has much of its leadership in common with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group with ties to the political empire of the Koch brothers, industrialists from Kansas who’ve spent millions funding conservative causes. The head of the Freedom Foundation, Annette Meeks, told ProPublica she has “no involvement” with Fair Redistricting. But both organizations’ tax filings list the same address: Meeks’ home address.
Fair Redistricting is registered under the name of her husband, Jack Meeks, who is also on the board of the Freedom Foundation. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Who is actually paying for Fair Redistricting’s lawsuit and lawyers? And what district lines are they pushing for? The group doesn’t have to say and has so far kept its finances and plans under wraps. Annette Meeks did not respond to questions about the group’s donors or its ties to the Koch brothers, but she said the group complies with all legal filing requirements. But the group’s public tax filings contain no information on its contributors.
MN for Fair Redistricting in the MNGOP Party Budget Fiasco
The entangled fortunes of the players in that scenerio was raised by Republicans made anxious by their party's squalid economic situation. In State GOP report finds no illegal activity related to party debt, PIM's Brianna Bierschbach reported in early May 2012:
Similarly, the report offered no further clarification regarding the legal bills accrued during the past year’s redistricting efforts. “Some have asked whether allegations have been made that the [party] is responsible for debts of [Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting],” the report read. “To our knowledge, no commitment has ever been made by any officer of the RPM to have the party serve as a financial guarantor of the MFR’s financial obligations.”
The internal report is available online here.
Express Scripts PAC and executive money in Minnesota
Express Scripts' money is no stranger to Minnesota's Republicans, however much their allied nonprofits may quietly deposit the drug benefit manager's checks in bank accounts away from the sunlight of public scrutiny. In August 2011, Bluestem posted in State party federal accounts: MNGOP reports negative cash-on-hand; HRCC federal fund:
An added bonus in the FEC reports? The mid-year report for the federal account for the House Republican Campaign Committee, a.k.a., the campaign wing of the House of Zellers.
It's quite legal for a state-level committee to set one of these up, the better to coordinate with campaigns for federal office like congressional candidates. Ian Marsh, who now serves as Zellers' legislative director, serves as treasurer of the committee, which was set up in August 2010. (All filings here).
Nearly all of the money received by the committee is from federal PACs, like the one run by the company formerly known as Philip Morse, now Altria, or like Express Scripts, the giant pharmacy benefit manager firm, which laid off 70 Minnesotans this spring when it sent their jobs offshore.
Express Scripts PAC was the largest single contributor to the fund, at $15,000 in three contributions, since the HRCC federal account received $5000.00 more in January 2012.
Minnesota politicians receiving the benefit of ES's largesse include CD6 Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, CD2 Congressman John Kline, CD3 Representative Erik Paulsen, former congressman Jim Ramstad, and former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman.
Giving was not entirely on the right side of the state. The Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party received $5000.00 from the federal ES PAC in 2010, and Amy Klobuchar received and returned two checks totaling $6000. However, the parsimony toward Minnesota Democrats is an exception nationally, as the PAC gives freely across party lines elsewhere.
Individually, Express Scripts Vice President of Government Affairs Vern Rowen splits his state level contributions, listing more toward the DFL side in the legislaure. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Rowen gave checks to the Dayton, Emmer, Horner, Kelliher, Seifert and Thissen campaigns. He also gave $1000 to the Minn Business Partnership PAC in 2010 and two gifts of $250 to the DFL House Caucus in 2008 and 2009. On the federal level, Rowen split his giving to Tarryl Clark ($750.00) and Erik Paulsen ($250 and $1000) as well as to the Express Scripts PAC.
Much of the company's executive individual giving to politicians goes to electeds in the company's home state of Missouri. The company is an ALEC member, a co-host of Missouri Night at ALEC's 2012 Annual Conference in Salt Lake City at the end of July 2012. The company also sponsored the "Missouri Night" at the 2011 ALEC meeting in New Orleans.
Photos: Annette and Jack Meeks, smiling all the way to wherever they happen to be going at the time (above); The Sutton Peso note, by Tild (below).
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