The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled last Thursday that major corporate donors related to the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage must be disclosed. But Minnesota’s strong disclosure laws already reveal many prominent movers and shakers behind the seven-year battle the Minnesota Family Council has waged to get the amendment on the ballot next year. High-dollar contributors include the owner of a DVD-replicating business who has given large sums to Republican causes and the chairman of a sports apparel company that’s received $2 million in defense contracts. And even staffers of the Minnesota Family Council have kicked in big money.
The Minnesota Independent took a look at lobbying reports, campaign finance filings and foundation tax records and found a large amount of money coming from a handful of people. Lobbying reports don’t include the amount of money given to a particular lobbyist, only whether the donation was more than $500 per year. And campaign finance reports are limited to funds that went toward advertising, print or other electioneering communication and activity.
Three groups have been behind the push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Minnesota Family Council (which also runs Minnesota for Marriage), the Minnesota Catholic Conference (a part of Minnesota for Marriage) and Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage (which reformed under the banner of Minnesota Majority several years ago).
Reports show that lobbying by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota, is exclusively funded by the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, unlike other organizations which have a diversity of donors.
For the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), Minnesota for Marriage (M4M) and Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage (MCDM), the money is primarily from large donors. Here’s a look at some of the biggest:
Robert Cummins, Primera Technology
Robert Cummins donated $90,000 in 2005 and $38,130 in 2006 to M4M to get the marriage amendment on the ballot. He’s the founder of Primera Technology, a DVD duplicating company in Plymouth, Minn. He also gave $280,000 to the now defunct MCDM.
Cummins is a major donor to GOP and conservative groups, having given millions over the last 10 years. And it’s rumored that Cummins, along with other conservative donors, have promised Republicans big-dollar donations in 2012 if they passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
A source recently told Politics in Minnesota that “promises must have been made to outside sources” that in exchange for getting the amendment on the ballot Republicans would get millions of dollars to help with the 2012 campaign to retain control of the state House and Senate. Cummins is notoriously shy about speaking with the media.
A very religious man, Cummins founded a Catholic school, Providence Academy, in the western suburbs of the Twin Cities. His religious faith is a driving value for his company: Primera markets specifically to churches to help spread the gospel.
Primera has also done work for 45 state governments including Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis, over 40 US Air Force bases, Metro State University, Macalester College, the University of Minnesota system, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minnesota State University Mankato and the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves franchises. Primera’s work for the state of Minnesota in 2010 and 2011 comes to just under $2,000.
Rodney Huisken, Huisken Meats
Rod Huisken made his money in the family business, Huisken Meats in Chandler, Minn. Huisken passed away earlier this year, but his legacy lives on through donations to anti-LGBT groups. Huisken and Cummins teamed up in 2007 to defeat former Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Wilmar by funding attack ads through anti-gay and anti-abortion groups. The Worthington Daily Globe explained at the time:
Who was behind the hateful, fear-mongering ads on the gay marriage non-issue that blared from your radio, filled your mailbox, and plastered your windshield at church on Sunday morning? You might picture pious little old ladies fearful that their grandchildren will turn into homosexuals, but you would be wrong. Most of those ads came from Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage. More than half of that organization’s funding came from one wealthy man, Robert P. Cummins of Deephaven, who contributed $155,000. When his contribution is combined with the $45,000 from Rodney Huisken of Chandler, Minn., the two provided about 70 percent of MCDM’s funding. MCDM targeted about two-thirds of its statewide independent expenditures against one candidate, Dean Johnson.
Minnesota for Marriage spent roughly $100,000 attempting to get the so-called marriage amendment on the ballot. Of that total, Robert Cummins gave more than $38,000 and Rodney Huisken provided $25,000, which when combined made up almost two-thirds of the budget. Huisken provided all of the funding for Minnesota for Life. Cummins kicked in $20,000 to MCCL as that organization attacked Johnson and sponsored Michael Cruz in the primary election.
Johnson was a top target of groups during that election because he wouldn’t allow the marriage amendment, sponsored by then-Sen. Michele Bachmann, to come to a vote in the state Senate. It had already passed the House.
Huisken was also a faithful donor to Bachmann for Congress over the course of her congressional career.
All told, Huisken gave $36,000 to Minnesota for Marriage and $85,000 to MCDM, and was a reliable donor to the Minnesota Family Council’s lobbying activities until his death.
Joel Jennings, Gopher Sport
Joel Jennings is CEO of Gopher Sport, a sporting apparel and equipment company based in Owatonna. Gopher Sport also goes under the name the Prophet Corporation. Jennings personally gave M4M $15,000 in 2005, and the Jennings Family Foundation, which was previously called the Prophet Corporation Foundation, has given the Minnesota Family Council $80,000 since 2003.
The Minnesota Family Council is consistently in the top five recipients of the foundation.
Jennings also gave money to MFC’s lobbying efforts in 2010.
At least a portion of the company’s profits come from the government.
The company received more than $2 million in defense contracts between 2000 and 2010 and another $130,00 in other government contracts.
George and Barbara Anderson, Crown Iron Works
George Anderson of Roseville-based Crown Iron Works has funded the Minnesota Family Council’s lobbying efforts for years. He also made a $10,000 contribution to Minnesota for Marriage in 2006 to help get the bill passed. His wife, Barbra, is an outspoken member of the staff at the Minnesota Family Council.
Barb recently claimed credit for stopping anti-bullying efforts and claimed that the reason that LGBT students get bullied is because they have come out of the closet.
She said that it was LGBT groups that caused the bullying because more students were coming out of the closet.
“That is one of the tactics that they are using now, to say that by not legitimizing and normalizing homosexuality, we are creating an atmosphere in the schools that is hostile to quote-end-quote gay kids,” she said. “What they are doing is just the opposite themselves. They are creating an environment where these children that are sexually confused suddenly become affirmed as a homosexual or that they are born that way, and then these kids are locked into a lifestyle with their choices limited, and many times this can be disastrous to them as they get into the behavior which leads to disease and death in some cases.”
She added, “So, it’s really… They are the ones that are contributing to an atmosphere that can even increase bullying as more kids get into this kind of a lifestyle.”
She made that statement on the radio program of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed a hate group.
Ron King, real estate developer
Eden Prairie–based real estate developer Ron King has given $45,000 to Minnesota for Marriage over the last seven years.
“I have a faith that moves me to make decisions like this,” told the Pioneer Press in 2006. “I believe our state of Minnesota and our nation need it in order to solidify family as a unit of society, integral to the continuation of a productive society.”
Last week’s decision by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board means that large scale donations from corporations will have to be disclosed in addition to the personal donations that wealthy business owners have made in previous years. The Minnesota Independent will be reporting on the money behind the campaigns surrounding the amendment to ban gay marriage in the coming weeks.