New Questions Raised About DFL Ties To Wealthy Foundation

The Minneapolis Foundation is a powerful force behind the scenes in Minnesota that you’ve never probably heard about.

Minneapolis Foundation

The Minneapolis Foundation is a powerful force behind the scenes in Minnesota that you’ve never probably heard about. It raised $100 million in 2018 alone, gives around $70 million in grants each year, and has about $900 million worth of assets. The Foundation’s CEO is former Minneapolis mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate R.T. Rybak, who makes about $350,000 per year as of 2018—his compensation is likely higher today.

Just how influential is the Minneapolis Foundation? After the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests and riots, the Minneapolis Foundation was invited by the City of Minneapolis to aid the process of building a “new” policing policy. Because of the record of Rybak as mayor, some activist groups voiced displeasure over the involvement of the Minneapolis Foundation, though current Minneapolis Democrat mayor Jacob Frey immediately came to Rybak’s defense.

A vehicle for the progressive superrich?

Criticism of the foundation surrounds the fact that it is a vehicle for superrich Minnesota progressives to influence policy and, arguably, advance their own interests.

Andrew Dayton, former Democratic governor Mark Dayton’s son, is on the board of the Minneapolis Foundation. Committee members and board members also include business elite from a handful of top-tier financial firms, including hedge funds, all with offices in Minneapolis. Tim Walz’s Lt. Governor, Peggy Flanagan, was also on the board of the Minneapolis Foundation before being elected.

Probably because of this elite pedigree, the foundation appears to have much sway with the state Democratic Party, and its grants show a decidedly leftwing bent. 

Non-controversial grants have been given to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, and the Northside Boxing Club. Certainly, these grants go a long way toward serving underprivileged youth. But recent grants also show gifts to Gender Justice, a radical pro-abortion legal group, and the local Planned Parenthood affiliate (or franchisee)—Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. 

Tax records of older grants from 2017 show about $385,000 given to Planned Parenthood, $130,000 given to the gun control group Everytown USA, and another $100,000 given to TakeAction Minnesota.

Many Minneapolis Foundation staff also appear to be previously tied to the state Democrat Party, or have previously worked in DFL politics or as staffers for the DFL in St. Paul.

Questions about ties to Democrats in St. Paul

Of course, none of this is illegal. And even critics’ allegations about the Minneapolis Foundation being a vehicle for rich progressives shouldn’t completely detract from some of the good work that the foundation does. Yet bigger questions surround the Minneapolis Foundation’s ability to access taxpayer funds due to the Foundation’s ties to DFL officials. 

The foundation had a nearly-$1,000,000 line-item in Democratic Governor Tim Walz’s recent budget. That request appears to be due to a recommendation by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner, former Google executive Steve Grove

Importantly, Grove, who was appointed by Walz to the DEED Commissioner position, is also tied to the Minneapolis Foundation. That’s because Grove’s wife, Mary Grove, is on the board of the Minneapolis Foundation. And Grove and his wife’s nonprofit, Silicon North Stars, has listed both the Minneapolis Foundation and DEED as two of only eight “sponsors” on its website.

Although Silicon North Stars clearly does good work, this raises questions as to the propriety of having the DEED Commissioner advocate for money to be given to the Minneapolis Foundation, which funds his non-profit and where his wife is on the board, while also giving DEED money directly to his non-profit.

Said differently, no matter how justified the cause, it’s bizarre for the commissioner of an agency to have the agency listed as a primary funder of the same commissioner’s side-nonprofit, where the commissioner’s wife is still involved (and potentially being compensated). It’s also bizarre when that commissioner is lobbying to give a million dollars in taxpayer money to a foundation that funds the commissioner’s side-nonprofit, when that commissioner’s wife is also on the foundation’s board. 

More questions to come

Alpha News plans on continuing to look into the Minneapolis Foundation, and its ties to state officials. This isn’t the first time that connected politicians or officials in Minnesota have potentially abused their position to leverage taxpayer dollars. Many of these actions exist in a legal grey area, where the Minnesota press would seemingly readily step in, but has largely taken a back seat—especially when DFL politicians are involved.

In a few examples, a DFL-connected lawyer received a nearly half-million grant from the state for a “veteran’s defense fund,” and appears to have used it to subsidize his own law practice and compensate himself and his law partner. And those were the expenses that were reported. $200,000 of that grant is still unexplained, and the story has been largely unreported (aside from Alpha News, and by Dave Orrick at the Pioneer Press).

In another example, the McKnight Foundation—which funds environmental groups in the state of Minnesota, including the “Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum”—appears to have subsidized the employment of a DFL lawmaker at the University of Minnesota. Complaints from state Republican politicians led to that program being canceled by the U of M. 

Finally, a longstanding and highly compensated Department of Human Services official, Nathan Moracco, signed contracts for payments to an organization where he was serving on the board. Moracco still remains at DHS, and makes at least $120,000 per year.

Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.