First Hoium and his team took care of the basics, hiring a software consultant, a telemarketing specialist, and a bevy of paid phone bankers. (Most everyone in politics prefers paid phoners to volunteers by now; as one strategist notes, they show up on time and "stick with the script better.") Then they moved on to the issues.

Hoium didn't, he acknowledged, know much about Bloomington politics--he lives 100 miles away, in tiny Foley--but he knew the issues that push voters' buttons. Municipal finance, which the candidates had persisted in discussing, wasn't one of them. Low-income housing might hit closer to the spot. Bill Peterson's campaign produced a four-page pamphlet blasting "ultra-liberals" like state Rep. Myron Orfield: "First they force us to send them our taxes, and now they want us to take some of their inner-city problems." There was also a support-the-endorsement rally featuring Rudy Boschwitz, who had given $50 to Coral Houle's campaign, but was now urging voters to help "build the local Republican base that is essential to victories all over Minnesota."

But what Hoium really needed were some good "niche" issues, the kind that get tempers boiling and loyal voters turning out. He got the list of everyone who gave money to Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, and everyone who took out a doe permit from the state. To the hunters, a letter went out noting that Houle had voted to "ban gun shows at the Bloomington Armory.... What will come next? Gun registration? Confiscation? A city ban on gun ownership?" (Actually, the decision had come in response to neighborhood complaints about traffic, but a vote is a vote.) For the pro-lifers, there was a flier inviting them to "cast your vote for life"; there were no city issues involved, but the flier noted that "without life, every other issue is meaningless."

The Houle campaign was flabbergasted. So were some of the Republican candidates. Doug Kempf, who was running for the City Council on the GOP slate, says he never wanted guns and fetuses brought up. "I feel like my campaign got totally jerked out of my hands. I ended up taking positions in public that I wasn't consulted about. I didn't know what the plan was going to be; I was told nothing about it despite persistent questioning." (Hoium says he offered Kempf to have his name taken off one of the mailings, but Kempf declined.)

On Election Day, the Republican endorsees got trounced again. Of the four, only incumbent City Council member Peggy Ramthun was elected. The party effort, Hoium estimates, cost about $25,000; reports on whether any more than the first $12,000 came from the state GOP won't be due until February. The information filed so far does show that Bob Cummins sent the state party another $20,000 on October 27, 10 days before the election. That brought his total to $45,000, more than anyone else gave the party this year (the second-largest contributor gave a mere $15,000) and about seven times what he contributed in 1993 and '94.

Chances are no one except Cummins will ever know whether his "extraordinary generosity" this year had anything to do with the battle in his hometown. But what is clear is that his donations fit a larger picture. When the new campaign finance laws were passed two years ago, lots of people around the Capitol were mumbling about how political money is like water: Dam it up in one place, and it will find another place to flow.

That place, it seems, is with the major parties and their legislative front offices, the House and Senate IR and DFL caucuses--six organizations in all, none of them encumbered by contribution or spending limits, all of them raising money hand over fist. In all, the state Republican Party reported some $1.3 million in income for the first 10 months of 1995--a nice figure for an off-year, but only half the total for 1994, when legislative and Congressional elections were going on and national Republican committees sent in checks for as much as $100,000 at a time. Also in '94, the state House IR caucus reported raising $1.1 million, more than double its total for the previous election year; givers included party maven Wheelock Whitney ($25,000); Minneapolis investment banker James Jundt ($20,000), and retired Honeywell exec James Binger ($20,000).

Democrats, though in the majority, had less luck with the very rich; still, the party tallied $1.5 million in contributions in 1994, up from $1 million in 1992. The DFL House caucus made about half as much as its Republican counterpart for a still-respectable total of $580,000; two years before its take was only $320,000. Big givers included the Minnesota Education Association, which wrote a check for $65,000; the trial lawyers' political action committee ($25,400); and the Realtors PAC ($28,500).

All this money, of course, has to go somewhere. For the last couple of decades, the most you saw from a political party in a typical election was the sample ballot. Parties and caucuses might also run a few polls, recruit candidates, pay field workers, and do some general get-out-the-vote phone banking and advertising; most of the specific mudslinging was left to the individual campaigns. What's more, legislative races weren't that hot to begin with; most lawmakers came from what the pros call "broomstick" districts, where voters would elect anyone or anything that had the party seal of approval.

« Previous Page
Next Page »