Former Ecolab executive will chair Tim Pawlenty's gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota

Key Points
  • Republican Tim Pawlenty brings on former Ecolab executive James Seifert to be his gubernatorial campaign chairman.
  • Seifert oversaw Ecolab's lobbying shop.
  • Pawlenty joins a host of others running for office who are turning to business executives for campaign assistance.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

Former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has turned to a former executive of water and energy technology services giant Ecolab to chair his campaign for governor of Minnesota, according to quarterly filings.

With the move, Pawlenty continues the trend among Republicans of naming corporate executives and other prominent big-business figures to chair political efforts.

A campaign aide confirmed to CNBC that James Seifert, who retired as general counsel and executive vice president of Ecolab last year, volunteered for the position. The committee chairman post is always unpaid, the aide stressed.

A spokesman for Ecolab, which is based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, told CNBC that while Seifert was at the company he oversaw the government relations department, along with the regulatory affairs division, among other duties.

Seifert also was a state house representative for district 57A during the same time Pawlenty was part of Minnesota's legislature.

A spokesman for the campaign declined to comment further.

While Seifert was overseeing Ecolab's lobbying office, the company's government relations office hit records in lobbying expenses, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2015, the group spent $1.45 million on lobbying fees, the most in the history of the company, for a variety of issues including taxes, trade and energy, the center's website says.

Pawlenty's team joins a growing list of political campaigns and groups looking to business executives to navigate them through challenging elections and assist in fundraising.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., recently brought on board oil tycoon Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, to be his finance chairman in the Senate battle with Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp. The campaign raised just more than $1 million in the first quarter of 2018, including a $50,000 donation to the Cramer Victory Fund from Hamm himself, filings show.

Todd Ricketts, co-owner of Major League Baseball team the Chicago Cubs and a board member of brokerage firm giant TD Ameritrade, recently became the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. He took over after casino mogul Steve Wynn stepped down following reports of sexual misconduct.

With Ricketts' assistance, the RNC has pushed ahead with a sense of urgency in its spending efforts in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. The GOP is fighting to maintain its majority in the House and add to its thin lead in the Senate.

Recently, the committee announced it would be shelling more than $250 million in its efforts to keep the House of Representatives under Republican control.

"'Our No. 1 priority is keeping the House. We have to win the House," RNC political director Juston Johnson said in a press release. "That is the approach we took to put the budget together," he added.

For Pawlenty, Seifert's addition may have already proved to be an immediate difference maker.

The campaign on Tuesday announced it raised $1 million, in just under a month since Pawlenty made his run official, and finished the first quarter with $972,000 on hand.

"We've received extraordinary support for our commitment to find a better way forward for middle income Minnesotans who are getting squeezed," Pawlenty said in a release.

According to campaign filings, Seifert was one of the top donors this quarter, giving $4,000 of his own cash to Pawlenty's efforts.