The Minneapolis city council election is upon us, with early in-person and mail-in voting already begun. The following is an analysis of the campaign finance reports of the three candidates running for the open seat in Ward 12, combining the three reports required so far of the candidates: Aurin Chowdhury, Luther Ranheim and Nancy Ford. By law all donors giving over $100 must divulge their names, addresses and employers. The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board requires end-of-the-year reports, January reports and what they call pre-primary reports at the end of July (even though Minneapolis has no primary). (Reports viewed at vote.minneapolismn.gov under "campaign finance reports".)
Based on his background in finance and philanthropy from the uber-rich, I expected Luther Ranheim to get most support from the very wealthiest, many of whom lived far from Minnesota. This was partly wrong. Ranheim pulled in $69,000, with little from outside Minnesota. He had donations from bankers (Wells Fargo, Bremmer, U.S. Bank, Marquette, etc.) and huge numbers of developers and property managers (Ryan, Hall Sweeny, Diversified Equities, Lupe, Phoenix, Bader, Doran, JLL, Mortenson, etc.). What really surprised me from the Ranheim donors were the number of lawyers, litigators, and lobbyists for big construction and management projects (Stoel Rives, Larkin Hoffman, Stauber Legal, Caplan-Tamburino, Briol-Benson, Fabian Hoffner, etc.). One lawyer confines his entire practice to appeals and litigation of business tax assessments. Even more surprising were the registered lobbyists donating to Ranheim, with work involving creditors’ rights, wine and spirits, Flint Hills Refinery (Koch industries owned), CenterPoint, big builders and developers. Four conservative former city council members were also among Ranheim donors. The only political action committee to donate to Ranheim was the Downtown Council, although their president Steve Cramer also donated individually as well as Cramer's predecessor. Ranheim listed 207 individual donations over $100.
Nancy Ford raised almost nothing additional for this campaign, with only five donations over $100, one of which she gave to the campaign herself. The lawn-signs you see were probably paid from funds left over from her 2021 campaign. (Note: that was the year she donated to and endorsed Republican Minnesota Senate candidate Sean Holzer.)
A little surprising was that Aurin Chowdhury had nearly as much in total donations as Ranheim, just under $58.000. However, there weren’t many surprises who they were: labor organizers (SEIU, AFSCME), current city council members, current state House and Senate members, teachers and professors (Minneapolis, St. Paul and the U.), DFL staff, immigration advocates and lawyers, musicians and music teachers, employees of energy conservation and alternative energy concerns (Bright Power, Atta Planning), employees of progressive advocacy groups (MoveOn, Minnesota Voice, Jewish Community Action, Civic Eagle, Tending the Soil), writers and bookstore owners (Moon Palace), musicians and music teachers. Of 128 individual donations over $100, only one came from a political action committee: Women Winning PAC.
In terms of finding out how local these donors were, I analyzed city of residence and zip codes indicating Ward 12 homes. Of his 207 entries, Ranheim had about a fifth from Ward 12 (38), half from all of Minneapolis (136) and a third from other parts of Minnesota. Of her 12 identifying entries, Ford had all five from Minneapolis in Ward 12 and three entries from other Minnesota locations. Of her 128 entries, Chaudhury had 24 from Ward 12, 89 from all of Minneapolis and 39 from other Minnesota locations. None of the candidates had significant donors from outside of Minnesota.
What do I conclude from who backs each candidate?
The sample of donations to Nancy Ford was simply too small to draw conclusions, in either number or amount of donations. We can still know that she is a local business owner, of course, but cannot really gauge her support from other business owners or associations.
Ranheim is clearly the more conservative of the two candidates remaining. Though the city council has no control over the hiring or funding of the police, Ranheim would likely support Mayor Jacob Frey’s record or his promises on public safety. Beyond that, Ranheim has no experience concerning unarmed solutions to lessening crime. Unlike Ford, Ranheim has no experience with businesses ownership. He has no record on equitable climate resilience, rather has accepted contributions from fossil-fuel advocates. The biggest Ranheim contrast, however, is with housing; he has massive support from developers who argue that they need generous contracts and subsidies to build a lot of projects, so housing inflation slows. This has been a longstanding argument. If you favor that approach, those developers would be Ranheim’s first constituents.
Aurin Chowdhury, on the other hand, is much more likely to devote attention and money to the root causes of our public safety problems. Like Ranheim, Chowdhury also has no experience in business ownership. She is a renter herself and favors public policies and investments to address homelessness and reduce housing inflation costs. From her years in organizing and working with the city council, she has developed a network of strong relationships with individuals and organizations to address climate, food, safety, housing and other survival issues. People who work in those areas overwhelmingly donate to her campaign.
There you have it. Make a plan to vote, whether early in-person, by mail or at your local precinct on Nov. 7. It’s our democracy and we get to decide. But only if we inform ourselves and if we show up.
Charles Underwood is a 25-year resident of Howe. He has door-knocked for candidate Aurin Chowdhury in the community and is a member of the DFL party.