By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
A group of Twin Cities conservatives is spending nearly $30,000 to air attack ads on local television aimed at defeating state Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow of St. Peter.
Televised ads taking aim at state lawmakers are unusual in rural Minnesota, and Morrow said he’s never been targeted before. But the ad-buy is large enough that regular viewers of KEYC probably have seen the nautically-themed ad several times.
Using animation, the ad shows a tuxedo-clad Morrow on a luxury liner as a house and a sinking lifeboat of flood-ravaged Minnesotans float by. The narrator states that Morrow voted to spend tax dollars for improvements to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis rather than for programs to protect Minnesotans from floods.
“... Morrow’s wrong priorities left us to sink while the orchestra played on,” the ad intones, urging viewers to “Stop Terry Morrow.”
A look at the official House Journal referred to in justifying the charge, however, shows that the Freedom Club ad was somewhat creative with the facts along with the animation.
The ad refers to an amendment offered by Hastings Republican Rep. Denny McNamara on Feb. 15, which would have diverted funding in the 2010 House bonding bill from Orchestra Hall to the state’s flood hazard mitigation grant program — increasing it from $50 million to $100 million, and adding $30 million to wetland restoration.
The bill already included the $50 million suggested by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and McNamara’s amendment would have put the funding $40 million above what the Department of Natural Resources requested, according to documents on the governor’s official website.
The advertisement mentioned only the money that would have been diverted from performing arts centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The McNamara amendment also took funding from civic centers around the state — including $13.9 million for an expansion and renovation of the civic center and All Season’s Arena in Mankato.
Morrow supported the Mankato project, and a group of Mankato-area business-owners supported it strongly enough to encourage Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to not veto it.
The McNamara amendment failed 42-91, and several Republicans — including gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer — joined Morrow in opposing it.
Pawlenty ultimately vetoed the Mankato project while signing into law the funds for Orchestra Hall.
Despite Morrow’s vote against diverting the civic center funds to flood projects, the House Journal shows he was willing to sacrifice performing arts centers and civic centers. In a later vote on Feb. 15, Morrow voted in favor of an amendment that would have axed the funding for Orchestra Hall and civic centers across the state — including Mankato’s.
That amendment was offered by Republican Rep. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville and would have diverted more than $50 million in civic center money to road, bridge and greater Minnesota transit programs.
It set aside nearly $46 million for state highway improvements; city, county and township roads; and county roads with high crash rates.
Morrow joined most Republicans and a few rural Democrats in supporting the amendment, which failed 54-76.
An exclusive club
The Freedom Club keeps a low profile when not raising and spending funds. It has no website and didn’t send out a press release with documentation for the Morrow advertisement as some political action groups do.
George Anderson of Champlin is listed as the group’s chairman in a filing with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. Anderson didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
An executive with Crown Iron Inc., Anderson has given tens of thousands of dollars in recent years to conservative causes and Republican candidates, including maximum donations to 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
The list of donors to the Freedom Club State PAC on the Campaign Finance Board website shows mostly suburban business-owners and entrepreneurs. The organization’s top donor — with $110,000 in contributions — is William Austin of Eden Prairie, owner of a hearing aid company.
The House Republican Campaign Committee, which hopes to take back control of the House from the DFL, also made a $107,125 contribution to the group.
And the Freedom Club held a fund-raiser in December that generated news and, apparently, hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. Guests were asked to pay $5,000 to attend a private reception and book-signing featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was paid $25,000 by the Freedom Club, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Roughly 70 people attended.
Morrow said he was surprised to be targeted by the organization.
“This group has not been on my radar,” said Morrow, who is facing Republican Rebecca Peichel of rural Fairfax on Nov. 2. “... I don’t know what the Freedom Club is thinking.”
Morrow said he’s confident his constituents aren’t being influenced by the ad, given the volume of negative campaign advertising on the air waves. And he’s suspicious that an organization dominated by suburbanites is really coming after him because he didn’t support diverting Orchestra Hall funds to flood programs.
“Maybe they’re angry I voted for restoring taxes on the very wealthiest Minnesotans,” Morrow said.