Minnesota For Sale: Dark Money Edition [Updated]

In this fourth edition of our Minnesota For Sale series, we dive into the dark money supporting Democratic candidates in Minnesota.

Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere are famously opposed to “dark money” funding of campaigns, where donations are not traceable to the original source. At the state legislature, Democrats have been pushing for more restrictions on the activity of outside political groups.

Truth be told, Democrats are much more likely to be the beneficiaries of “dark money” in political campaigns. For our purposes, we’re defining dark money as donations made (in cash or in kind) to political funds from unregistered associations, nonprofits, and for-profit corporations.

The above chart is not meant to capture every dollar of dark money flowing to Democratic campaigns in Minnesota during the most recent election cycle.

As we documented in earlier parts of this series (1, 2, and 3), much of the money funding Democratic campaigns comes from labor unions and wealthy out-of-state individuals, where the sources of funding are fully disclosed.

The sources of the $18 million in donations listed above are much less clear.

A couple of them are easy to decipher. National Finance Services LLC of New York is a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments. The donation was later returned.

Poet LLC of South Dakota produces ethanol.

By dollar amounts, the biggest contributor to Minnesota Democrats this cycle was the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). The Association itself gave directly. However, most of the money was donated though a Federal Election Commission (FEC)-registered “Super PAC” called DGA Action.

According to the FEC’s database, almost all of the money raised by DGA Action came from, surprise, the Democratic Governors Association. The only other large donation to DGA Action this cycle was $450,000 from a “Leadership PAC” named Common Good VA. This PAC is based in Richmond, VA, and is associated with former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Who funds the national DGA? As of yet, there are no lists of original DGA donors for the 2021-22 election cycle. The campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org has compiled a list of the top 20 contributors to DGA for the 2019-20 election cycle.

The biggest donors are predominantly large healthcare corporations. Blue Cross/Blue Shield contributed $1.4 million. Pfizer gave 900,000. Centene gave $845,000, and United Healthcare gave $785,000.

Big tech is well represented at the DGA with Microsoft giving $600,000.

Household names Walmart give $500,000, Coca-Cola $454,000. Labor unions feature, of course. Renewable energy giants gave generously, with Next Era Energy contributing $610,000.

As we’ve previously noted, the Super PAC, Democracy PAC II, is supported by New York-based financier George Soros. He appears so frequently on these lists because he is unusually transparent with his political giving, for a shadowy international billionaire. He is reported to have financed Democracy PAC II with a donation of $125 million.

He gives directly, and under his own name, to individual candidates and state parties. His funding vehicles, like Democracy PAC II, are FEC-registered, with each of his supporting donations publicly acknowledged.

He also gives through his charitable arm, the Open Society Foundations. Open Society’s website has a lengthy biography of Soros himself. The website has an easy-to-use searchable database of all Open Society donations.

For example, Open Society lists a $500,000 donation in 2020 to Vote Yes 4 MPLS, the defund-the-police activist group. Yes 4 MPLS is a project of Black Visions Minnesota, itself a subsidiary of TakeAction Minnesota (see above).

Open Society lists a $650,000 donation in 2019 to Faith in Minnesota (see above), itself a subsidiary of ISAIAH Minnesota. Open Society gave an additional $350,000 to ISAIAH directly in 2019.

501c4 operations like those owned by Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Faith in Minnesota, TakeAction MN, and WIN Minnesota, are the darkest of dark money outfits. As registered nonprofits, they do not have to disclose donors or make any separate campaign finance filings. The only source of data on their activities are their annual Form 990 tax returns, which are only available to the public with a lag of one to three years.

To complete the list of above entities, Democratic Action is a PAC funded by thousands of small donors, if you consider those giving $5,000 or less to be small.

State Victory Action is based in Raleigh, NC. Little information is available about the group. It was incorporated as a nonprofit five years ago.

[Update] Another mysterious entity with an outsized influence goes by the name Safe Accessible Fair Elections. It was incorporated as a nonprofit in the District of Columbia in March 2022. It registered with the state Campaign Finance Board in June 2022 and terminated its registration in December.

In between, it spent $3.3 million on behalf of the Democratic candidate for MN Secretary of State, Steve Simon. The source of this money is unknown.

The $3.3 million spent by SAFE far exceeds the combined totals spent by the candidates themselves. Simon and his Republican opponent, Kim Crockett, combined, spent only $2.1 million on their own behalf in 2022.

Midwest Values PAC is a leadership PAC based in Minneapolis and associated with former U.S. Senator Al Franken.

No listing for any entity matching “Toolbox” in Arlington, VA, can be found in any of the common databases.

…But we’ll keep digging…

Read Part 5.