On Friday night, state representative and House Environment committee chair Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, seemed a bit miffed as he began his rambling and defensive closing remarks about the Environment and Natural Resources Finance bill.
How defensive? McNamara began his floor speech by dismissing claims that he's in the back pocket of Big Business:
I think it's interesting how we paint a bill and unfortunately we end up so partisan. Kind of interesting to hear how I'm the one in the pocket of big business. Fourteen years that I've been here and never taken a penny from a PAC, lobbyist, or special interest group and spent more time door-knocking than anyone in the body and I'm the one about big business.
If anyone here believes that, I think you're kind of a loner.
Here's the video:
That sort of loner-hood is the sort of thing that the respected Center for Responsive Politics--which focuses mostly on federal campaign finance and public disclosure issues--describes on its FAQ page in one item in a section on research and methodology:
In tracking campaign contributions from industries, why do you include contributions from individuals, and not just PACs?
CRP is the only organization that invests in categorizing campaign contributions by industry in a way that includes individuals' contributions, not just money from political action committees. Here's the logic behind our methodology: Since corporations and other organizations are prohibited from making political contributions from their treasuries, one must look at the contributions from people associated with the institution to gauge its political persuasion and how it might be trying to exert influence in Washington. Also, the Federal Election Commission requires disclosure of a donor's employer and occupation if they contribute more than $200, which suggests the government is concerned about individuals' economic, or industrial, interests. We know that not every contribution is made with the donor’s economic or professional interests in mind, nor do we assert that every donor considers their employer’s interests when they make a contribution. But our research over more than 20 years shows enough of a correlation between individuals’ contributions and their employers’ political interests that we feel comfortable with our methodology. We have also observed that the donors who give more than $200, and especially those who contribute at the maximum levels, are more commonly top executives in their companies, not lower-level employees.
This methodology, applied on the state level, may be what produces the sense of some that Representative McNamara is in the pocket of special interests.
No one has suggested that McNamara takes money from lobbyists or PACs. Instead, loners who accept the methodology of CRP's Open Secrets--and data there is used by both parties in critiquing federal candidates-- agree with this premise:
But our research over more than 20 years shows enough of a correlation between individuals’ contributions and their employers’ political interests that we feel comfortable with our methodology. We have also observed that the donors who give more than $200, and especially those who contribute at the maximum levels, are more commonly top executives in their companies, not lower-level employees.
The disclosure threshold for state giving is $100, rather than $200, but the principle is the same.
In No small potatoes: Dept of Natural Resources requires EAW for pinelands to spud fields project, Bluestem noted the $50,000 contribution by R.D. Offutt, the potato industry leader that's deforesting parts of northern Minnesota, to the Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative IE Fund.
The MJC is credited as being one of the forces that flipped the Minnesota House; Ben Golnik, its chair, has become the executive director of the Minnesota House Republican Caucus.
The company itself funded the group, but several Offutt family members also gave campaign contributions to Representative Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), who was the lead Republican on the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee in the last session.
From the searchable contribution database at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board:
McGovern, Keith 09-17-2014 McNamara, Dennis House Dist. 54B Committee RDO $250.00
McGovern, Rondi 09-17-2014 McNamara, Dennis House Dist. 54B Committee RDO $250.00
Neal, Scott 09-16-2014 McNamara, Dennis House Dist. 54B Committee RDO $500.00
Keith McGovern and Scott Neal are the sons-in-law of RDO director emeritus Ron Offutt; Rondi is his daughter.
While that's a mere $1000--dwarfed by the privately-held company's contribution to Golnik's PAC--there's a fair chance that the donors (who don't appear to live in McNamara's district) understood that McNamara would once again chair the committee with oversight of the Department of Natural Resources budget.
Perhaps the company's $50,000 payment to Golnik's PAC had something to do with 2013-2014 chair Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) getting booted from the committee entirely, in contradiction to House custom to approve minority caucus picks for committee minority leads.
According to Minnesota Legislators Past and Present, McNamara chaired the committee in the 2011-2012, and became the minority when the DFL retook the House in the 2012 election. The courtesy was discontinued with the ascendance of Speaker Daudt and Golnik.
So there's that--and earlier in Friday's debate, McNamara brought up the need to rewrite a law so that unnamed company wouldn't have to put up with the trauma of getting a sudden phone call from the Department of Natural Resources about how the agency was going to do a discretionary Environmental Assessment Worksheet about the consequences to water of your plan to turn pinelands into potato fields.
Not a penny of lobbyist or PAC cash directly to McNamara, but the interests of the Offutt family are being served by McNamara, who received their largesse--and benefited from its channeling to the MJC Legislative Fund PAC.
And then there's our post about other individuals of another family giving McNamara large sums, and a bill coming up about a change sought by their industry to the MPCA's Citizens Board, With friends like this, who needs lobbyists' cash? House environment committee to hear MPCA bill:
. . .the Offutts aren't the only ag interests who gave McNamara money last year--indeed, they're pikers compared to the Molitor Brother Farms family contributions.
According to a search of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board's individual campaign contribution database for political contributions by the Molitors and Thorkelsons, family members gave $12,700 to three candidates: Representative McNamara (R-Hastings); Representative Garofalo (R-Farmington); and Ryan Rutzick, who was defeated by Minnetonka DFLer Jon Applebaum.
Brent Molitor and Rita Molitor made two contributions totaling $700 to Rutzick, while Brian Molitor, Charles Molitor, Heather Molitor, Patrice Molitor, Eric Thorkelson and Sara Thorkelson each gave McNamara and Garofalo $1000, for a total of $6000 each.
According to Ownership interests information online at the EWG Farm Subsidy database, the Thorkelsons and the Molitors (with the exception of Brent) were the owners of Molitor Brothers Farm in 2012. Brent Molitor is employed by the farm, according to information at the Minnesota campaign finance site.
But there's more in the post:
Agriculture and ag lobbyist contributions for the HRCC and its allies in the 2013-2014 cycle
As we reported back on February 1 in AgriGrowth Council & friends paint picture of MPCA Citizens' Board as Fifth Plague of Egypt, the coalition of commodity groups and production scale ad advocates had this to say about "reforming" the Citizens Board's powers:
Environmental Regulatory Reform
While other parts of the country are limited by water shortage and the need to import feed, Minnesota has plentiful opportunities with respect to both of these essential elements of a successful livestock operation. Unfortunately, new investment in this industry has been placed at risk due to recent actions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board. Beyond the costs and delays of these projects, the recent Citizens’ Board action raises real questions about Minnesota’s willingness to accommodate growth and new investment in the animal agriculture sector. AgriGrowth will be asking the legislature to review the Board’s responsibilities and powers to ensure that Minnesota can become an inviting location for responsible growth and investment in Minnesota’s agricultural sector to provide new economic opportunities for farmers, rural communities, and our entire state.
So what sort of money did Big Ag put on the table to help flip control of the House? In this post, we won't be looking at contributions to individual campaigns, but rather contributions to the HRCC, the MN Job Coalition Legislative Fund and the MN Action Network IE Fund.
We found at least $295,000 in contributions over $10,000 given directly by Big Ag interests to these three committees. With smaller PAC contributions by commodity group and ag law/lobbying entities, the total easily approaches climbs over the $300,000 mark.
These contributions are by no means a complete picture of the political giving--merely that which we can dig out of state-level year-end campaign finance reports. Nor are we suggesting that the getting and spending only occurs on one side. The problem is one of transparency.
Two Davis family members gave a total of $75,000 to the HRCC, the committee's 2013 and 2014 year-end reports reveals. On December 31, 2013, Marty Davis, founder of Cambria, gave $25,000 to the HRCC; months later on October 9, 2014, he threw another $25,000 into the kitty. On September October 8, Mitch Davis of the Davis Family Dairies, contributed $25,000.
Having sold Davisco, the family dairy processing firm, to Canadian co-op giant Agropur in the summer of 2014, the always-generous-to-the-GOP Davises could certainly help out.
. . . contribution of at least $45,000 in cold hard campaign cash to the Minnesota state House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC; year-end report here) by members of the Fehr family, owners of Riverview Dairy. (Some might add in an additional $2500 donated by Mitch Fehr, to make the total rise to $47,500).
Tom Rosen, of Rosen's Diversified and the American Food Group, the nation's 5th largest beef processing company. gave $25,000 in 2013 and $25,000 in 2014, for a total of $50,000 for the cycle. Rosen Diversified gave the Minnesota Action Network IE Fund $50,000 on September 5, 2014.
The Pipestone-area swine and feed operation, New Horizon Feeds, contributed $25,000 to the Minnesota Jobs Coalition on September 26, 2014. As we noted in Hot potato politics: Offutt family members gave Representative Denny McNamara campaign cash, the RD Offutt Company gave the Minnesota Jobs Coalition $50,000 on September 26, 2014.
Rosen's Diversified, Davis Family Dairies, New Horizon Feeds and the RD Offutt Company are all Agri-Growth Council members.
MN Jobs Coalition's Agribusiness Money from the Republican State Leadership Committee?
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund also received $325,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Although we can't determine if any of the Agribusiness contributions to the RSLC was earmarked for Minnesota, we can discern ag money in the pot.
Kraft Foods gave RSLC a total of $100,000; Kraft maintains a presence in Minnesota's dairy industry with cheese plants in New Ulm and Albany.
Monsanto gave the RSLC two contributions totaling $25,295.
Perhaps that has something to do with why people say Denny McNamara is in the pocket of industry. Not only did he receive large contributions from upper management-level individuals in industries regulated by--and seeking relief from--his committee, but industry special interests gave to PACs that were helping to smooth McNamara's ascendency to the committee chairmanship.
Other than that, McNamara's right: there's no reason for anyone to think he's got to where he is through anything other than knocking the snot out of doors in his district.
Photo: McNamara defends his honor and his omnibus bill on Friday night.
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