While in office, former state representative Denny McNamara liked to brag that he never took PAC money in his political career.
True, but that's only part of the story of his political fundraising, a story illustrated by his campaign finance report for the special election in Minnesota Senate District 54. The rest of the story is cash--big contributions--from CEOs and other executive level leaders of companies who may have business at the state legislature.
On the federal level, many journalist use the Open Secrets database to report on fundraising, while overlooking the methodology that includes giving by owners and upper level management among industry cash.
Let's give that methodology a try in looking at very large ($1000) contributions to McNamara's senate bid in the special election.
In McNamara's pre-general report, large contributions from the executive class and their family members add up to $21,000, as analysis of the report embedded below reveals. Bluestem includes these $1000 contributors in the haul:
Sharon Avent CEO, Smead
Terry Avent husband of CEO, Smead
Laurie Davis Davis Family
Mary Davis Davis Family
Mitch Davis Davis Family
Stanley Hubbard Hubbard Broadcasting
Karen Hubbard Hubbard Broadcasting
Keith McGovern President, R.D. Offutt Company
Rondi McGovern R.D. Offutt Company
Ronald Offutt Founder/chair of R.D. Offutt Company
Courtney Poepl Lawyer (SGS);Wife of Matt
Jacob Poepl Vermillion State Bank
John Poepl CEO Vermillion State Bank
Mary Pat Poepl Wife of John; Family owns Vermillion State Bank
Matt Poepl Vermillionc State Bank (Poepl family owns)
Patrick Regan Minnesota Coaches/Hastings Coaches (Premier Bank family)
While the report includes a $1000 from Robert Ulrich at Target, Ulrich is retired and doesn't serve on the corporation's board, so we haven't included his contribution. Nor did we include contributions by anyone of less than $1000.
Citizens for Denny McNamara pre-primary report, SD 54 special election uploaded by Sally Jo Sorensen on Scribd
As we explained back in 2015 in Of the loners at the Center for Responsive Politics & McNamara's campaign finance fables:
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. . .
. . . 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.
Conclusion? When McNamara bloviates about not taking PAC money, consider where he is raising money--and what the consequences might be for taking that might.
Think of it as an open secret for a state senate-level race.
Photo: Denny McNamara (left) who claims to be so not in the pocket of industry, cavorting on the floor of the Minnesota House with Greg Peppin (right), GOP political strategist and husband of Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. Mr. Peppin's firm, P2B Strategies, received $2,468.80 for supplying yard signs to the McNamara senate campaign according the report. Something's being drained here, but we doubt it's the swamp.
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