House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin and Minority Leader Paul Thissen are political opposites: one a conservative Republican from the suburbs, the latter a progressive DFLer from Minneapolis.
They have one thing in common, however: Both receive campaign money from two of Minnesota’s most prodigious political donors, Justine and Dr. Robert Haselow, the founder of Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, a prominent cancer treatment center with 11 Minnesota locations.
When the state campaign finance board releases reports Tuesday detailing contributions to candidates and political groups, the Haselow name will appear on many of them.
Although the DFL and its candidates receive far more, the Haselows give to Republicans, too, as they try to defend a moratorium that blocks competing cancer centers from entering the marketplace.
To an unusual degree, the Haselows shower money on legislative leaders and rank-and-file members alike — House and Senate, rural, urban and suburban lawmakers — even legislators who are thought to disagree with them on most issues.
Candidates, parties and political groups are in the final push to turn out the voters who will determine control of the Minnesota Capitol next year, an expensive effort that requires big money from business groups, labor unions and contributors like the Haselows.
Even before Tuesday’s campaign finance report, the Haselows had already given more than half a million dollars this election cycle.
Peppin received just four donations through the first half of 2016, and two of them, for $500 each, were from the Haselows. In 2015, the Haselows gave money to Thissen’s House fund but also $2,000 to his 2010 — yes, 2010 — gubernatorial campaign. Thissen wasn’t the only candidate to receive a time machine donation: DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk also received $2,000 for his 2010 run for governor.
The Haselows have given $1.8 million to candidates and campaigns, most of it to Minnesota politicians in the past decade, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics.
This political giving places the Haselows in rarefied territory among Minnesota donors, joining well-known names like broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard for Republicans and ex-wife to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and philanthropist Alida Messinger for the DFL.
Haselow, who still treats cancer patients, declined an interview request but released a statement to the Star Tribune: “As Justine and I have done for the past two decades, we continue to support candidates we like, those we have relationships with and those we believe are good representatives for our state, across both parties,” he said.
By several accounts, Haselow enjoys being part of the political system and the heightened role in it made possible by his donations.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin said that Haselow “likes to get into the nitty-gritty of campaigns and how they’re run and making sure that his money is being invested well. He’s got a lot of great ideas.”
Savvy donors looking to influence an issue often give to both sides to make sure their arguments are heard, no matter who is running the Capitol, and Haselow has a specific policy interest: In 2013, the Legislature extended a 2007 moratorium on new radiation treatment facilities in 14 counties, including the Twin Cities and Duluth metro areas. The law benefited Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, or MRO, by limiting potential competition.
The issue is complex. Advocates for the moratorium say MRO’s competitors would build new facilities to improperly refer patients to their own radiology practices, thus violating the spirit of a federal law intended to prevent doctors from enriching themselves with these “self-referrals” in which the patients’ best interests may not be primary. MRO, on the other hand, only treats patients referred to them by other physicians.
Opponents of the moratorium say a deep-pocketed, politically connected company is using the law to muscle out competitors and profit from the arrangement.
The Minnesota Department of Health recommended extending the moratorium.
The debate played out during a brutal lobbying battle between Haselow’s company and a rival cancer treatment firm in which MRO prevailed. The medical company spent more than $4 million lobbying from 2009 to 2015. In 2013, the year the moratorium was extended, it hired 17 lobbyists from nine different firms, including Tom Emmer, now a GOP congressman, and Roger Moe, the former DFL Senate majority leader. The measure to extend the moratorium until 2020 passed with bipartisan support.
Alyssa Siems Roberson, a spokeswoman for the Senate DFL caucus, said unlike many significant campaign donors, the Haselows’ donations are entirely transparent and disclosed. “It is unfortunate and a little ironic that there is extreme scrutiny of public donors, but no similar outrage and scrutiny for donors who choose to hide their donations,” she said.
She added, “While we are certainly appreciative of donations small and large, the policy positions of DFL senators are not dictated by donors.”
The Haselows have given $155,000 to the Senate DFL caucus this election cycle, even before the most recent campaign finance report to be released Tuesday.
They have donated $52,500 to the House DFL and $40,000 to the House GOP.
In other words, regardless of who wins Nov. 8, the Haselows will have political allies at the Capitol.
Staff writers MaryJo Webster and Maya Rao contributed to this report.
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042