City Council hopefuls raising money fast

City Council candidates are raising money furiously as DFL conventions fast approach

Lisa Bender, a candidate for City Council in Ward 10, speaks to a guest at a fundraiser she held on Feb. 12. Credit: Kristin Lebben

Update: This article has been changed to reflect that incumbent Diane Hofstede says she will abide by the DFL endorsement in Ward 3. In a November interview, Hofstede was non-commital about abiding by the endorsement, saying “Well, I guess we’ll have to see.” Her campaign manager today said Hofstede would “absolutely” abide by the endorsement.”

When R.T. Rybak announced in late December that he would not run for mayor in 2013, a political game of musical chairs commenced, as City Council members geared up for runs for Rybak’s office and newcomers eyed up the seats that those Council members will leave behind. 

Now that the music has stopped, City Council hopefuls are raising money furiously as DFL conventions fast approach. Candidates have varying philosophies on fundraising, but a few races could shape up to be expensive. 

“I think that this is going to be an interesting year, because we’ve got a lot of movement at the top of the ticket in the mayor’s race, and we have movement in several wards in terms of having lots of candidates,” said Lisa McDonald, a former City Council member, 2001 mayoral candidate and one of the best fundraisers in recent City Council history. 

Two races in particular could get very pricey. In Ward 10, incumbent Meg Tuthill faces four DFL challengers and in Ward 3, Diane Hofstede faces a young workhorse challenger in Jacob Frey. Neither incumbent has promised to abide by the DFL endorsement. Tuthill has not promised to abide by the DFL endorsement, and if she doesn’t get it, Ward 10 candidates could get into a spending battle that lasts until November. 

In 2009, the most expensive council race in Minneapolis cost just over $80,000, and most incumbents spent $25,000 to $35,000 on relatively easy victories. In just a few weeks of fundraising for the 2013 elections, Ward 10 candidates have already raised $40,000 and Ward 3 candidates have raised $33,000. (Note: Ward 10 includes neighborhoods in the Uptown area and Ward 3 includes neighborhoods in downtown and Northeast.)

On top of those two races, three City Council wards have become open races because their current council member is running for mayor. That will make Ward 13 of Southwest another interesting race, as Linea Palmisano and Matt Perry square off for the DFL endorsement. 

So, how much does it cost to win a City Council race? 

McDonald says somewhere between $20,000 and $50,000 usually wins a race, but those numbers could escalate if candidates don’t abide by the DFL endorsement and take their campaigns all the way into the fall. 

Tuthill posted an impressive 2012 fundraising report, raising $18,000 despite $100 limits on contributions in non-election years. Tuthill chalks up her success to her deep routes in the neighborhood, although state law does not require her to disclose donors who gave $100 or less. 

“I’ve been here a long, long time and been active a long time,” Tuthill said. 

While Tuthill’s numbers are impressive, her challengers proved they also have the resources to compete with her for DFL delegates, who will cast ballots for the Ward 10 endorsement on April 27. 

Kendal Killian raised $11,000, the most of Tuthill’s challengers.

“I do think that there’s a sense in Ward 10 that folks want change, and the challengers in Ward 10 have resources nearly equal to that of the incumbent, and that is reflective to me that people in the ward want to go in a new direction,” Killian said. 

Lisa Bender raised $6,000 and Ken Bradley raised $4,300. Neither candidate held their kick-off fundraiser before the end of the year, unlike Killian. Also, Bradley loaned his campaign $8,600 and Bender loaned her campaign $3,000. 

Both Bender and Bradley say they’ve got plenty of resources to run strong campaigns, and both said they don’t need to raise the most money to win the DFL endorsement. 

“I am fundraising to a budget that will give us plenty of resources to run a successful campaign,” Bender said. “I am spending most of my time talking to voters, and that’s what will win this campaign.” 

(Note: a fourth candidate, Nate Griggs, will be in Afghanistan during the Ward 10 DFL convention and said he plans to personally finance his campaign when he gets back.)

Bradley also said he was more focused on talking to residents, and noted that in Minneapolis, the top fundraiser doesn’t always win.  

In 2001, Rybak upset incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton in the mayoral race despite being outspent $419,000 to $230,000. Betsy Hodges in 2005 defeated McDonald in Ward 13, despite being outspent $90,000 to $55,000. In 2009, Kevin Reich spent just $18,000 to win the Ward 1 race in Northeast, despite being outspent by Larry Ranallo by over $10,000. 

Those races have one thing in common: The candidate who was outspent won the DFL endorsement. 

Many onlookers say it’s nearly impossible to win a Council race in Minneapolis without the backing of the DFL. In 2009, 12 out of 13 candidates who got DFL endorsements won elections. Only Cam Gordon, a Green Party candidate, won without DFL backing and in that race,  the DFL did not endorse a candidate.  

That’s why candidates are trying to raise money fast this winter. They need enough money to launch a website, send mailings to potential DFL delegates and to print campaign literature that they can hand out at the convention. 

McDonald (who is backing Meg Tuthill in Ward 10) says getting money right away can be helpful. 

“Early money is always good because it deters people from running against you,” she said. 

In Ward 13, Matt Perry raised $6,400 in the last 4.5 days of 2012, plus gave his campaign a $2,000 loan. His campaign manager, Jen Borger, said getting early funding will help Perry focus on talking with voters in the coming months. 

His opponent, Linea Palmisano, didn’t raise any money in 2012, but she made very clear that she’ll be able to raise $20,000 to $30,000 before the Ward 13 convention on May 4.  

Palmisano didn’t decide to run until around Christmas, so she said she didn’t have time to form a fundraising committee and secure donations in 2012. 

Palmisano hosted a campaign kick-off on Feb. 7, she has sent out fundraising mailers and has a handful of small house parties scheduled for the next few months. Perry also has smaller meet-and-greets scheduled. 

Candidates will be able to raise much more money in 2013. In non-election years, individuals can only make $100 donations. In 2013, they are allowed to donate $300. 

Killian says some of the high fundraising totals are because 2013 could be a big turning point in Minneapolis city government. The city will get a new mayor and at least three new council members.  

“It’s the first real kind of open debate we’ve had about the future of the city in a number of years — in at least 10 or 15 years,” Killian said. “Usually that type of excitement is reflected in fundraising numbers as well.”

Note: This story has been updated with additional information about Matt Perry’s campaign. 

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]