Dorr brothers’ dodgy business strategy isn’t new in Republican politics

April 27, 2020 7:36 am

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The Dorr brothers, who are among the organizers pushing to reopen Minnesota, are infamous among Republican politicos throughout the Midwest. Ben, Christopher and Aaron set up conservative issue groups and then attack fellow Republicans and allied groups, calling them RINO traitors to the true faith. 

Republicans allege that it’s all just a scam — create a conservative issue group with a Facebook page, raise money, do it again.  

When the Dorrs created “Minnesota Right to Life,” the rival Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life wrote to its supporters, “We will be here long after the Dorr brothers have moved their fundraising scam on to the next state.”

Now they’ve created a group called “Reopen Minnesota,” to the dismay of rival organizers who were already using the name. 

There’s certainly some evidence that a good chunk of the money the Dorrs are raising with these projects is going into their pockets. 

MPR’s Catherine Richert recently reported on the family’s, uh, entrepreneurial ways: 

“Based on publicly available tax documents, the Dorrs’ efforts in Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio have raised more than $2.9 million since 2013, with at least a third of it going to a direct mail printing company in Iowa owned by the Dorr family.”

The Washington Post reported on the Dorrs and quoted a retired GOP Iowa legislator. 

“The brothers will do anything to fan the flames of a controversial issue, and maybe make a quick nickel,” said the former state legislator, Republican Clel Baudler.

Republicans who think the Dorrs are just some bad apples should look deeper into the barrel of the past half century of right wing activism. 

As the historian Rick Perlstein has shown, there’s a long history of huckerism in conservative movement politics, from godfather of direct mail Richard Viguerie on. By 1980, Viguerie had 25 million names to whom he sent 100 million pieces of mail, with just 10-15% of the money going to intended beneficiaries, Perlstein reported back in 2012. 

Consider the ads you see on the websites of leading conservative talkers like Sean Hannity. Here are a couple I saw Sunday: 

12X better than solar panels? Prepper’s invention takes country by storm!”


“Doctor: ‘Doing this every morning can snap back sagging skin (no creams needed)” 

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had an endorsement deal with a South Dakota company selling a cinnamon and chromium compound to “reverse diabetes.” 

Closer to home, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka decided the place to share his most out-of-the-mainstream opinions was on the webcast of a right wing Christian faith healer who claims he saw his son rise from the dead. 

And let’s not forget the dear leader himself. A decade ago, among his other business interests, President Donald Trump was running a multi-level marketing ploy — don’t call it a pyramid scheme! — called “The Trump Network” that sold “customized nutritional supplements whose composition was determined by a urine test,” according to health care news site Stat.

This was around the same time Trump was building a political identity by convincing easy marks that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

Republicans may be aghast that the leader of their party mused aloud last week about the benefits of UV rays and disinfectant inside the body to fight COVID-19, but they shouldn’t be surprised. 

Nor should they be surprised when hucksters like the Dorr brothers pop up.

They’re just following a proven business strategy. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children