Climate justice group launches effort urging candidates to return contributions from MN Chamber of Commerce
September 9, 2020
Calling the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s record on climate “an assault on Minnesota values,” the climate advocacy group MN350 Action today announced a campaign to pressure 14 legislative candidates to return campaign donations from the Chamber.
“The Chamber of Commerce trumpets itself as a friend to Minnesota’s business community. And it spends millions of dollars on lobbying to buy access and influence at the Capitol” said MN350 Action Communications Director Brett Benson. “But Minnesotans know the climate crisis jeopardizes business every day. The Chamber really is little more than a mouthpiece for one particularly destructive business, Big Oil. It’s time our candidates recognize that if they’re taking donations from the Chamber, they’re taking dirty money. We call on them to give it back.”
MN350 Action last week sent letters to 12 Republican and two Democratic incumbents who the MN Campaign Finance Board says have accepted contributions ranging from $250 to $500 from the Chamber this election cycle. All are running to retain their seats in the state House or Senate. The relatively small amounts still “send precisely the wrong message and erode trust among the growing numbers of voters and constituents for whom protecting our climate for future generations is a primary concern,” the letter said.
One incumbent candidate, Sen. Melissa Wiklund of SD 50 in Bloomington and Richfield, has returned the $250 her campaign received from the Chamber in February after MN350 Action contacted her last month. The largest recipient of contributions from the MN Chamber this year was state Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth. He was resoundingly defeated in the August primary by an opponent who supports strengthening climate protections.
The remaining 14 candidates who’ve accepted Chamber donations are:
Tony Albright, R-House District 55B (Prior Lake, Jordan)
Michelle Benson, R-Senate District 31 (Ham Lake, East Bethel)
Rich Draheim, R-SD 20 (Northfield, New Prague)
Kent Eken, D-SD 4 (Moorhead, Detroit Lakes)
Barbara Haley, R-HD 21A (Red Wing, Cannon Falls)
Jeff Howe, R-SD 13 (Sartell, Sauk Rapids)
John Jasinski, R-SD24 (Owatonna, Faribault)
Jon Koznick, R-HD 58A (Lakeville)
Jim Nash, R-HD 47A (Waconia, Watertown)
Carla Nelson, R-SD 26 (Rochester, Stewartville)
Marion O'Neill, R-HD 29B (Buffalo, Monticello)
Kristin Robbins, R-HD 34A (Maple Grove, Rogers)
Joe Schomacker, R-HD 22A (Pipestone, Slayton)
Daniel Sparks, D-SD 27 (Austin, Albert Lea)
MN350 Action volunteer Kayla Heinze called out Eken and Sparks in particular for breaking with the Democratic National Committee, which recently strengthened its stance on climate issues. “Democratic candidates who position themselves as friends of the climate justice movement should especially feel ashamed about the hypocrisy of accepting campaign contributions from the Chamber,” said Heinze, a 20-year-old college student who grew up in Plymouth. “For young voters, who will play a critical role in the state’s election, that’s beyond disheartening.
“Candidates in Minnesota who profess to love our abundant natural resources and promise to preserve them for current and future generations cannot in good faith take money that ties their interests to the Chamber of Commerce. That’s an assault on Minnesota values. We want our state and our leaders to take bolder action to protect our environment and decrease the influence of fossil fuel companies.”
According to the Campaign Finance Board, the Chamber spent $6.5 million on lobbying in Minnesota from 2017 to 2019. That amount is second only to Enbridge Energy’s $19.8 million over the same period.
In 2019 the Chamber lobbied against Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to transition Minnesota to 100% clean energy by 2050. This year, it lobbied against the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act, which passed with bipartisan support in the Minnesota House. The Chamber also has been a longtime supporter of Enbridge’s massive Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
MN350 Action’s announcement comes as climate groups nationwide have launched a campaign exposing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s support of far-right candidates who want to limit environmental protections intended to halt climate damage.
“It is clear that both the national and Minnesota chambers do not represent the interests of business owners or everyday voters in their lobbying efforts,” Benson said. “We urge candidates in our state to cut ties with the Chamber as a step to returning power to Minnesotans and building an environmentally just future for everyone.”