Minnesota Democrats and their supporters raised and spent millions more than the GOP last year, leading up to a November election in which the DFL held onto every statewide office, kept the House and flipped control of the Senate.
DFLers on the statewide ticket largely outspent their rivals and were aided by robust party fundraising and the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which inundated Minnesotans with ads. The Alliance and dozens of other groups allied with both political parties channeled a whopping $62 million in independent spending to state races last year, nearly twice as much as the last midterm election.
"Minnesota is not a blue state and it's not a red state. Minnesota is a purple state, and every year you have to compete," state DFL Party chair Ken Martin said.
In his bid for a second term, DFL Gov. Tim Walz spent close to double that of GOP challenger Scott Jensen, according to campaign finance reports available Wednesday. Walz defeated Jensen by 8 percentage points.
The governor reported spending $9.8 million, while Jensen spent $5.5 million.
In one of the tightest races on the statewide ballot, DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison won re-election to a second term by less than one percentage point over GOP challenger Jim Schultz. Ellison outspent Schultz by close to a third. Last year, Ellison's campaign spent nearly $2 million while Schultz spent $1.3 million.
The spending paid off for the DFL, which bucked what was supposed to be a midterm election favorable to Republicans. Democrats took full control at the state Capitol, and when the 2023 legislative session began a month ago, they quickly pushed a series of bills that would have gone nowhere with a GOP Senate majority.
In the usually lower-key secretary of state's race, DFL incumbent Steve Simon spent $1.7 million while his Republican challenger Kim Crockett spent just $430,200. Simon easily won re-election to a third term, defeating Crockett by nine percentage points.
In another typically quiet race, DFL Auditor Julie Blaha and GOP challenger Ryan Wilson raised nearly the same amount of cash last year. She spent nearly $292,000 and narrowly defeated Wilson, who spent more than $273,000 in cash. However, Wilson also donated substantial in-kind contributions to his campaign, giving it another $260,000 boost.
Outside groups spent big
Statewide and legislative races were influenced by nearly $62 million in independent expenditures last year, which cannot be coordinated with campaigns. It was a dramatic jump from the $34 million spent in the last midterm election in 2018, Campaign Finance Board data show. Fifteen organizations reported $1 million or more in independent expenditures in 2022, compared to only eight groups in the last midterm.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota was by far the biggest of those spenders last year, doling out nearly $16 million on Democrats' behalf. Most of the group's dollars went to the races for governor and attorney general, although it did devote smaller sums to legislative face-offs.
In the race for secretary of state, the organization Safe Accessible Fair Elections spent roughly $3.3 million to help Simon win.
Minnesota for Freedom was the biggest outside spender on the Republican side, and put $2.6 million toward assisting Schultz in the attorney general's race. But Ellison had his own backing from another group, Democratic Attorneys General Association MN People's Lawyer Project, which spent more than $2.3 million in his favor.
A gaping disparity between the fundraising of state parties further buoyed DFL candidates.
The DFL Party reported raising almost $24 million last year and spent big on state races, ending 2022 with around $870,000 left in cash, according to the state report. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Republican Party raised $1.3 million and has about $8,000 remaining.
"Yes, they raised a lot of money. But if you look at regular people, individual donors, we probably raised more than they did from ordinary Minnesotans," said GOP Chairman David Hann, noting that a large portion of the DFL's money came from unions, billionaires and transfers from other political committees.
The DFL's Martin said the proof was in the results and the GOP can't take anything away from his party's historic year. "What I take the most pride in is what we spent it on and that was direct voter contact and organizing in under-represented communities," Martin said. "We spent our money organizing around our values."
Democrats also significantly outraised Republicans in the battle for control of the Legislature, with the House and Senate DFL caucuses both raising roughly three times as much cash as their GOP counterparts.
The House DFL caucus heralded the $7.3 million it received in 2022, which broke its previous 2020 cash record by nearly $2 million.