Minneapolis Election Forecast: Award-Winning Pile of Money Could Be Dumped on City Hall Again in 2023

You might remember “All of Mpls” as the group that sent a glossy photo of our old police chief to your mailbox at an irritating frequency during the 2021 election. A recent email survey sent to Minneapolis residents indicates the group may be back to dump another large pile of money on this year’s city election. And with the mayor not on the ballot, they can focus all their attention on city council.

All of Mpls spent $2.3 million in 2021, with $1.2 million coming from a separate independent expenditure campaign called “Plan for Progress.” Most of the rest of the money was made up of $5,000, $10,000, and sometimes $100,000, donations from wealthy individuals. There are no limits to the money you can donate to an independent expenditure campaign. The money was used to defeat a public safety ballot question, boost Mayor Frey, flip the city council majority to a slate of preferred candidates, and push voters to approve a new strong mayor government structure.

It was a campaign that distracted us with a promise/threat: if you vote the wrong way, say goodbye to your chief. Then the election went their way, and the chief immediately retired anyway.

Who is Plan for Progress and where did their $1.2 million come from? It’s the same organization with a different name. Plan for Progress is a political committee registered with the State of Minnesota — with the same chairperson and mailing address as All of Mpls — created for the primary purpose of allowing the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce to funnel $1.2 million to All of Mpls.

This entirely legal scheme allowed them to conceal the source of this money from the public until after the election. It used to be the case that political committees registered with the state were only required to file annual reports in January, months after election day. This loophole has since been closed.

The Chamber of Commerce was the sole funder of Plan for Progress. They terminated their committee two weeks ago on March 20, sending the remaining $15,214 in their account to All of Mpls.

Another 2021 political committee called Charter for Change, was also funded entirely ($243,616) by the Chamber of Commerce. That money was spent selling voters on a ballot question that handed more power to the mayor at the expense of the city council.

On the left, the single-issue group Yes 4 Minneapolis — who received large donations in 2021 from progressive and civil rights organizations, local and national — spent more than $3.5 million in an unsuccessful campaign for a public safety ballot question to create a department of public safety and eliminate the minimum number of police officers in the city charter. Though that public safety ballot question failed, the city is now further below the officer minimum than ever and has created an Office of Community Safety (under mayoral control, same as every other department in this new government structure). Without a high-profile ballot question to draw national attention, it’s hard to imagine a progressive independent expenditure campaign could replicate anything like it in 2023.

The All of Mpls campaign (brought to you by lobbying firm Apparatus GBC) won the Independent Campaign Expenditure of the Year Award from the American Association of Political Consultants in 2022. It’s an honor that Apparatus owner Leili Fatehi cites as one example of her ability to stand “against some of the biggest and most entrenched special interests.”

The scale of unlimited spending by outside groups in city elections has grown in recent years. The biggest independent expenditure campaign in 2017 spent just $273,000 — which seemed like an alarming amount at the time. With the stakes lower and no mayor on the ballot in 2023, we might not see All of Mpls match the $2.3 million they spent in 2021.

Looking ahead to this year’s election, if you start getting too-frequent glossy mailers telling you to support a particular slate of city council candidates, and you don’t know who’s paying for it, you actually do know who’s paying for it.