High up in the glass towers of downtown, where you’ve always wished you could take a flex pic for your Instagram, Minneapolis corporate executives and developers have been in the midst of a summers long freakout about the rejuvenated political energy in the Minneapolis election. The City Council races are during a flood of young, proud progressive candidates who are putting up a serious fight against older, more conservative — albeit still technically Democrat — incumbents. These incumbents were often slow to join the council’s embrace of a $15 minimum wage and mandatory sick leave policy.
Recently, this corporate freakout has parachuted from the towers and into the mailboxes and Facebook feeds of Minneapolitans. In a concerning move, business interests and Republican groups have been financing political mailers and ads, sometimes attacking particularly popular rivals on behalf of conservative Democratic candidates.
The tool that the wealthy and their companies are using to shape the council is the political action committee. PACs can accept unlimited donations, thereby giving wealthy individuals the ability to make their money go a longer way so long as the PAC doesn’t collude with the candidate.
This isn’t to say all PACs are bad for elections. University of Minnesota journalism professor Benjamin Toff observes that a PAC “is a mechanism for concerned citizens to express their views and involve themselves in the political process,” but notes that the political reality is that PACs give an advantage to people who have a lot more money.
James A. Lawrence, the former chairman of the investment banking firm Rothschild North America and executive for many local corporations, is a notable example of the wealthy’s shimmy through the holes in our campaign finance laws using PACs. According to Tuesday’s campaign finance report of Tom Bildsoe, a business-friendly, former Plymouth city councilor running for Dinkytown’s Ward 3, James and Mary Lawrence donated $1,200 to Bildsoe. The Lawrences made a significant investment into a man wishing to lead one of the city’s most quickly growing wards.
However, the Lawrences' contributions to city council races didn’t end there. Using the holes in our state's campaign finance laws to their fullest, James Lawrence pumped $25,000 into the Hear Our Voices Political Committee (HOVPC) PAC and $60,000 into Minneapolis Works, a conservative PAC aligned with the Republican PAC Minnesota Jobs Coalition. Although the funds from these PACs will go to support Bildsoe and other conservative council candidates through direct donations to campaigns or self-coordinated political advertising, Lawrence effectively upped his ability to influence the election by 70 times through funneling his money to PACs.
The campaign finance report of Tom Hoch, a business-friendly mayoral hopeful, lists James Lawrence as a donor as well, with an address located in Prior Lake. The executive lives 30 minutes from Minneapolis, yet he is its biggest political contributor.
The big money pouring into Minneapolis must be resisted. Voters must remember to ignore the false rhetoric of the millionaire-funded PACs and look out for candidates who genuinely want to serve their community. Council hopefuls should denounce the PACs and the business interests that overreach into our city. This upcoming election will be one that defines our city’s next four years. What will ensure the success of the next four years is a city council and mayoral leadership made up of politicians who look to serve first and foremost the people of Minneapolis.