Socialist Ginger Jentzen is the greatest city council fundraiser in Minneapolis history

Ginger Jentzen, seen here holding a stack of petitions in favor of raising the Minneapolis minimum wage, has raised money at an unprecedented rate for a city council race.

Ginger Jentzen, seen here holding a stack of petitions in favor of raising the Minneapolis minimum wage, has raised money at an unprecedented rate for a city council race. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Ginger Jentzen's opponents are hardly surprised. 

Asked if they wanted to discuss their campaign's fundraising, in light of one candidate's claim that they were raising money at historic levels, neither Steve Fletcher (DFL) or Samantha Pree-Stinson (Green Party) had to ask which of their opponents was pulling in all that money.

One of them simply cut to the chase. How much did Ginger get?

Answer: about $140,000 and counting, an amount the Socialist Alternative candidate's campaign believes is a record for a city council race in Minneapolis. Hennepin County's election office does not keep track of such figures, though City Council member Jacob Frey (now a DFL candidate for mayor) claimed to set a city council fundraising record back in 2013.

Frey, who started his city council campaign in 2012, raised just over $127,000. Jentzen, a first-time Socialist Alternative party candidate running to succeed Frey in Ward 3, has bested his total in about eight-and-a-half months. 

"It's a concrete expression of people's support for building a movement," says Jentzen, who is quick to add her campaign will not accept money from corporations or real estate developers. "To me, $5 from a nurse in Ward 3 is worth a whole lot more than thousands of dollars in developer money."

Jentzen's haul puts her way out in front of her competitors. Indeed, she has more money on hand ($51,000) than either opponent has raised throughout their campaigns. Both Fletcher and Stinson say they've raised around $40,000 -- pre-general campaign finance reports are due next week -- and neither seems worried about their progress. Fletcher was almost averse to the idea of a council campaign even raising $100,000, recalling that he'd needed a budget of only $40,000 to rally north Minneapolis voters against a gay marriage ban and voter ID laws in 2012.

"If you're selling something that is... not a natural fit, like the downtown business PACs are, or Ginger Jentzen is ... you have to do a lot more persuading," Fletcher says. "That’s why we're seeing spending in the hundreds of thousands. You shouldn't have to spend that much money to run a local city council campaign. I think it's bad for democracy."

Pree-Stinson says she, too, is held to a high standard of what sorts of support she can seek or even accept; if the Green Party noticed she'd taken money from donors who "did not meet their values," they'd rescind her endorsement.

"I left my career at Medtronic and took out $10,000 from my retirement to start my campaign," Pree-Stinson says. "I believe in lean budgeting and again, I am proud of the grassroots campaigning that I, my intern, and campaign team have done."

Jentzen sees her campaign as part of a national movement, name-dropping U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant, the Socialist Alternative politician elected to Seattle's city council in 2013. Jentzen's campaign finance records reflect that socialists are eager to support a promising candidate, regardless of proximity: The pre-primary report her campaign filed in July (by which point she'd already raised upwards of $60,000) showed donations from California, Washington, Massachusetts, Texas, and other states... with plenty of Twin Cities donations mixed in as well.

Jentzen pitches her involvement in that national movement, and her previous position as an activist pushing for a $15 minimum wage, as strengths.

"There's a lot of support and enthusiasm... for electing people to office who are accountable to social movements, accountable to grassroots movements," Jentzen says. "We can be the key agents of change, working for people in the ward I’m representing, to set the tone here in Minneapolis, which is at a crossroads."

Pree-Stinson takes a more cynical stance, and challenged Jentzen to release her un-itemized donations (those under $100) to reveal exactly how much of Jentzen's financial support was coming from outside Minneapolis.

Fletcher says he's not relying on much financial support from the DFL Party, though it has mailed out sample ballots identifying the party's endorsed candidates in that ward. His organizing experience tells him face-to-face interactions will make the difference, and says his campaign volunteers have an "almost 50 percent conversion rate" of support when they can reach a potential voter at the doorstep.

"We have a really strong natural base of support," Fletcher says. "We know about how many people are probably going to vote, and we can add some number to that. We know how many voters we need to win, we know what contact rate we're going to need, how many doors we need to knock. The math gets very simple."

Jentzen hopes her own numbers can alter that math. Wielding the biggest campaign war chest in city council history, she's trying to crack a long-unsolved equation, and become the first socialist to hold major office in Minnesota since World War II.

"Traditionally, young people might not see city council as the place to build real fightback," she says. "We're reaching, especially, people who often don’t feel like a city council campaign is very empowering to them. We're building movements to achieve -- in this case, it's about electing someone to office who's going to be real voice. And I'm not not going to stop doing outreach to the people after November 7."