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Challengers far outmatched in early campaign fundraising

Financing a political challenge can be an uphill climb, but one area legislative candidate actually finished July in the hole.

Matthew Kowalski, the GOP challenger to Rep. Dan Schoen, had no campaign money heading into August, when campaigns typically begin to ramp up.

And DFLer Don Slaten had very little money on hand for his challenge against Rep. Denny McNamara in the other south Washington County legislative race.

Kowalski had raised $2,700 in individual cash contributions from January through July, but he had spent it all and had $500 in unpaid bills, according to a state campaign finance report submitted July 27.

Kowalski, of Cottage Grove, said last week he has raised money since the end of July, bringing his total contributions to about $4,000.

“Quite frankly, I am not all that worried about it,” Kowalski said of fundraising. “One of my initial goals was I figured if I can get $10,000 raised, that will give me a good chance to do what I need to do.”

Kowalski said he plans a fundraiser for September and has received commitments from other donors. He said his campaign plan focuses on enlisting as many volunteers as possible to knock on doors and meet with voters.

“That, in my opinion, is the most effective in a local race,” he said.

Schoen, who is seeking re-election to a second two-year term, reported having $14,458 cash on hand last month. He had $2,672 in unpaid bills; his filing noted those payments were going to be made soon.

“Fundraising is not the fun portion of politics,” Schoen said. “It’s a necessary evil to get your message out and communicate with your constituents.”

Schoen, of St. Paul Park, said he’ll try to raise more money to keep his campaign going.

“I’ve had the fortune to be well-supported by the citizens here, groups that I work with and I’m very honored and humbled that they appreciate the cooperative manner that I try to work on issues with both sides,” he added.

Schoen and Kowalski are running in Minnesota House District 54A. The district includes St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island, part of South St. Paul and roughly the western half of Cottage Grove.

An even larger incumbent-challenger money disparity existed in the House 54B race, which encompasses the eastern half of Cottage Grove, Denmark Township, Afton, Hastings and Nininger Township.

McNamara, R-Hastings, was sitting on $29,485 in campaign funds at the end of July, according to his filing.

Slaten, also of Hastings, had only $297 on hand when he filed his pre-primary campaign finance report. Slaten had received $3,215 and spent $2,917.

McNamara said he’ll continue to raise campaign money, and he stressed that his donations are all from individuals, many of whom contributed small amounts. He said he’s never taken donations from political action committees or lobbyists.

“I think it just shows that hopefully folks are happy with what I’m doing and are supportive,” he said of his fundraising.

Slaten said he has continued to raise money and is not concerned with the cash gap between him and McNamara.

“I don’t think it’s that much of an advantage this time because Denny’s overstayed his welcome,” Slaten said. “He’s got a terrible voting record and we’re going after his voting record.”

Campaign money is spent on yard signs, literature, advertising, voter information and other purposes.

Candidates must submit campaign finance reports once they have raised or spent at least $750.

Local races

Washington County Commissioner Autumn Lehrke, who represents District 4 in south Washington County, is running for re-election to a second four-year term. She is being challenged by Karla Bigham.

Lehrke said last week she has not submitted a finance report yet this campaign. Bigham reported in early January having raised $1,130.

The next campaign finance filing deadline is Oct. 25, ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

Only one of six Cottage Grove City Council candidates had filed campaign finance reports in the race for two council seats.

Challenger Steve Dennis contributed nearly $2,500 of his own money and received almost $3,000 in outside donations between February and July 28, according to his latest filing. He made a number of personal contributions over six months totaling $2,493. His total funding received was $5,488. He recorded expenditures of $4,843.  

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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