Dems, Unions, Hollywood Stars Bankroll Network of Minnesota PACs

Helmed by former union officer appointed to Twin Cities council by governor he helped elect

Michael Douglas, Larry David, and Bette Midler / AP
August 7, 2014

The Democratic Party, labor unions, and Hollywood stars Bette Midler, Michael Douglas, and Larry David are pouring money into state and federal races in Minnesota by way of a network of political groups helmed by a Twin Cities legislator, public records show.

That legislator was appointed to his current post by a governor elected with the aid of millions in expenditures by that same network of groups, which is now working to secure him a second term.

A group called the Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM) paid $30,000 for online media buys this week attacking Michael McFadden, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.

It was the latest in a string of independent expenditures by ABM’s federal super PAC targeting GOP candidates for the seat.

According to Federal Election Commission records, the group was formed on May 29. The following day, it received a $20,000 contribution from another group called WIN Minnesota.

In June, the FEC sent a letter to ABM asking for additional information on its affiliated organizations that had apparently been withheld from its statement of organization. The next month, ABM filed an amended report noting that WIN Minnesota is an "affiliated committee."

WIN Minnesota, also a federal super PAC, appears to have provided all of ABM’s PAC’s financing since its formation. Contributions to ABM are the only expenses listed in WIN Minnesota’s FEC filings beyond overhead, consulting, and clerical expenses.

WIN Minnesota’s executive director is Adam Duininck, a former International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) official who now serves on the local governing body of Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Minnesota’s most noteworthy donors are household names: famed actors Bette Midler and Michael Douglas, who have donated $7,500 and $5,000 to the group, respectively, and Seinfeld producer and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David, who has given $5,000.

Other Hollywood actors have also donated. Robert Ackerman, Larry David, Paul Dooley, and Jay Greenspan are WIN Minnesota donors, as are CSI: Miami producer Jonathan Littman and Bing Bang Theory producer Bill Prady.

It has also received funding from the Laborers International Union of North America.

Another group run by Duininck, the 2014 Fund, leans more heavily on labor union contributions, and passes that money on to ABM for work on state races.

As of July, the 2014 Fund accounted for every dollar in the contributions received this year by the affiliated Alliance for a Better Minnesota Action Fund. It donated $440,000 to ABM Action in July.

A group called the 2012 Fund, also run by Duininck, gave the ABM Action Fund more than $1.5 million during the 2012 election cycle . Those funds were used for a host of independent expenditures attacking Republican candidates for state legislative seats.

The 2010 fund, a Duininck group operating, as its name would suggest, during the 2010 cycle, gave ABM Action more than $2.2 million that year. WIN Minnesota gave it another $3.3 million.

Nearly all of those funds backed more than $5.2 million in independent expenditures by ABM Action during that cycle supporting the election of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton or attacking his Republican opponent Tom Emmer.

Dayton won, assumed office in January 2011, and two months later appointed Duininck to the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council. Duininck did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Dayton is up for reelection this year, and ABM is using funds from Duininck’s network of groups to back his bid for a second term. It has so far spent $33,699.56 of the $440,000 it’s received from the 2014 Fund to attack five of Dayton’s potential Republican opponents.

The 2014 Fund’s largest contributor this year is the Washington-based headquarters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which has made two $100,000 contributions since April.

Affiliates of unions representing electrical workers, nurses, and firefighters have also chipped in, as have the Minnesota arms of the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.

IUOE Local 49, for which Duininck previously served as legislative and political director, donated $50,000 in February.

The Democratic Governors Association has also gotten in on the action, donating $50,000 to the 2014 Fund in May. Tim Gill, a member of the secretive Democracy Alliance, gave the group another $50,000 the same month.

The Fund’s only reported expenditures this year, through July, were its large contributions to ABM.

ABM is the Minnesota affiliate of ProgressNow, a network of state-based liberal groups that frequently decries opacity in the political process and the influence of high-dollar political donors over policymaking.

The group did not respond to questions about its affiliation with Duininck’s network of groups or to a request for the names of donors to its 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) affiliates.