Eighth District Representative Rick Nolan is facing another strong challenge this year from Republican Stewart Mills, who lost by a margin of just 1.4 percent in 2014—and Nolan is already bending under the pressure.
His strategy against the wealthy Mills is to latch on to the populist message of presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, with Nolan portraying his campaign as a legion of small donors battling the big money special interests of his opponent. But while Sanders’ claim is true that 70 percent of his contributions come from small donors, Nolan’s narrative is not.
Nolan’s percentage of small donors is even less than Sanders’ opponent Secretary of State Hillary “Goldman Sachs” Clinton at 16.7 percent; Nolan’s is 12.3 percent. Mills is 22.3—which means Mills beat Nolan in small donors by nearly two-to-one in the fourth quarter, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Mills announced his 2015 fourth quarter fundraising numbers on January 23. Knowing that Mills had outraised him (a difficult task for a challenger), the Nolan spin machine decided to release their fundraising total for the entire year. KBJR/KDLH TV and the Brainerd Dispatch both obligingly reported the yearly fundraising total and the false claim that 90+ percent of Nolan’s donors gave under $200.
KBJR/KDLH didn’t report Nolan’s fourth quarter fundraising numbers at all. Neither explained that Nolan was comparing four quarters of fundraising to only one quarter of Mills’. Neither explained that Nolan’s numbers were down from the previous quarter nor bothered to fact-check Nolan’s small-donor claim against the FEC’s website, which provides a breakdown of contributions in an easy-to-read pie chart that clearly shows only 12.3 percent of Nolan’s contributions for this cycle were $200 or less.
Nolan’s false claim is now part of the public record, even as he is pushing for more big contributions. On March 15, Nolan and the Minnesota DFL Party filed paperwork with the FEC forming a joint fundraising committee called the Rick Nolan Victory Fund. Joint fundraising committees consist of two or more candidates, party committees, or political action committees. All share in fundraising costs and distribute the proceeds according to a specific formula.
Prior to the US Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, federal law limited the total amount an individual could give to federal candidates, party committees, and political action committees, so these joint fundraising committees were limited in scope.
But in McCutcheon, the Court ruled aggregate contribution caps unconstitutional, opening the door for donors to give to as many candidates and committees as they want and paving the way for “super joint” fundraising committees—formed for the benefit of many candidates or committees—that can exert pressure on deep-pocketed donors to write big checks.
Under these new rules, an individual is allowed to write a check for as much as $15,400 to the Rick Nolan Victory Fund. But the donor must abide by the maximum contribution limits of $5,400 per election cycle to a candidate and $10,000 per year to a state party committee. The treasurer of the Rick Nolan Victory Fund is Virginia School Board Member Kim Stokes of Britt, wife of lobbyist and Silicon Energy Vice President Gary Cerkvenik.
As of press, Mills does not yet have a joint fundraising committee.
A member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Shelly Mategko is an award-winning journalist.