ST. PAUL (AP) -- Two prominent Minnesota political figures were among the nation's top individual soft-money contributors to state parties in the 1999-2000 election cycle, a watchdog group said Tuesday.
Vance Opperman, a Twin Cities businessman, gave $439,500 in soft money to the Minnesota DFL and other state Democratic committees and nearly another half million dollars to national committees, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Republican Chairman Ron Eibensteiner, who operated Wyncrest Capital Corp., gave $25,000 to the Republican National Committee and $226,000 to state GOP committees, the group said.
Soft money is the unlimited political donations that corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals can make to political parties but not to specific candidates. It will be banned after this year's elections under campaign finance reform legislation.
Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, said a study by three watchdog groups found that state parties raised $570 million in the 2000 cycle, nearly half of which came from transfers from the national parties.
The study said the Republican Central Committee of Minnesota raised $6.7 million, and the Minnesota DFL Central Committee raised $5.1 million in 1999-2000. The campaign finance law will ban soft money to the national parties, but Lewis predicts that will create more pressure to move soft money through state parties.
Opperman said he wants "to level the playing field a little" for Democrats, who he feels generally have fewer well-heeled donors than the GOP. Opperman said he also gave to Democratic Party organizations in his native Iowa and in North Dakota and Texas, where he has friends in politics.
He congratulated Minnesota GOP contributors like Eibensteiner for their six-figure contributions. "These are people who have strong beliefs and they put their money where their mouth is."
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