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Spending to benefit Democratic candidates for the Minnesota Legislature far outpaced spending for Republicans in Anoka County this year, according to the most recent data from the state’s Campaign Finance Board. But Democrats failed to flip any seats in the county on Election Day, leaving the area’s legislative landscape virtually unchanged.

Final 2020 financial reports for candidates and political organizations aren’t due until early next year. The latest preelection reports ran through Oct. 19, about two weeks before Election Day.

Despite incomplete data, the numbers paint a stark contrast. Independent spending to benefit Democrats in four races totaled more than $1.1 million. “Independent expenditures” refers to money spent by committees and political funds that don’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. Unlike donations to candidates, the law doesn’t limit donations to such funds, nor does it limit the amount they can spend.

This year Anoka County’s most expensive legislative race saw more than half a million dollars pour in to benefit DFL candidate Justin Stofferahn, who tried unsuccessfully to defeat Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, in Senate District 38. Only about $42,000 of independent money was spent to benefit Chamberlain.

Chamberlain won the election with 52.1% of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. That represents a narrowing of the gap from 2016, when Chamberlain defeated his opponent with 58.6% of the vote.

The other high-spending state Senate race in the county was District 37, where incumbent Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, held his seat against Republican challenger Brad Sanford. While about $249,000 of independent spending went to benefit Newton, only $40,000 supported Sanford. The contest was a rematch from 2016, and Newton widened his margin of victory slightly, taking 52.4% of the vote this year, compared to 51.4% four years ago.

Two races for Minnesota House seats in the county saw spending over $200,000 — both were rematches in competitive districts that were also the targets of high spending in 2018.

Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, fended off Bill Maresh in House District 36A after about $209,000 of independent money benefited Stephenson, compared to about $33,000 supporting Maresh. Stephenson won 51.3% of the vote. In 2018 he took 52.2%.

In District 37B, about $202,000 of independent spending benefited DFL candidate Amir Malik, who once again failed to unseat Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine. West widened his margin of victory, winning 52.4% of the vote after barely keeping his seat two years ago, when he won by less than 1 percentage point.

Other Anoka County races saw little independent spending this year from either side.

Incumbents won in every race where they sought reelection, and each party retained the seats vacated by legislators retiring or running for another office, which ultimately left the balance of representation in Anoka County unchanged.

Reports and details about political spending, donations and more can be found at the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board’s website at cfb.mn.gov.

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