Where was the statehouse coverage?

Secret money went to legislative races, but journalists rarely followed.

Editorial board

 

Election DayâÄôs dust cleared and so have DFLers. In a sweep various Twin CitiesâÄô news outlets called âÄústunning,âÄù the GOP gained a majority in the Legislature for the first time in 38 years.

Perhaps, though, the red flood over the Legislature isnâÄôt as stunning as political reporters are telling us. In an election year featuring palpable discontent at Democrats, shouldnâÄôt the passing of the DFLâÄôs legislative power-hold have been considered, if not evident, possible?

Newsrooms across the Twin Cities should be asking whether district races are as deserving of coverage as a headline-grabbing gubernatorial race. ThatâÄôs because in a post-Citizens United era, corporations and unions have been able to exert a more powerful and secretive influence on legislative races.

In a well-reported yet regrettably rare article about statehouse campaigns, GOP Sen.-elect Ted Daley told the Star Tribune he was getting help via independent expenditures from conservative groups. He told the paper he had little knowledge about the origin of money or pamphlets appearing on his behalf. Daley beat the incumbent DFLer.

The same article reported an attack ad alleging DFL Rep. Maria Ruud voted for nearly $1 billion in spending on zoos and gardens. Although the ad was referring to a bipartisan bonding bill, it appears to have worked: Ruud is now behind in a close recount.

For all their genuinely excellent coverage and fact-checking of some of the more popular races, Twin CitiesâÄô news outlets passed on reporting a historic transition in MinnesotaâÄôs Legislature until it actually happened. Unsurprisingly, furtive campaign cash and the attacks it produced emerged as the true winners in MinnesotaâÄôs legislative campaigns.