Ciresi pours $512,000 of own money into Senate race

Mike Ciresi
Attorney Mike Ciresi is one of four DFLers hoping to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman in the 2008 election.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Ciresi's campaign raised less than $300,000 during the last months of 2007. At the same time Ciresi contributed more than $500,000 of his own money.

Ciresi campaign manager Kerry Greeley said Ciresi has not gone back on his pledge not to pay for his campaign out of his own pocket.

"This is only a fraction of what he raised, and it's just we wanted to do some special things. We wanted to go up on TV and our campaign was the first to go up on TV . Mike wanted to reach a lot more people," said Greeley.

Ciresi, a wealthy trial lawyer, donated $512,000 to his campaign in the fourth quarter of last year - accounting for more than half of the $813,000 raised overall during the period. Despite the personal investment, Ciresi was still out-raised by rival Al Franken, who took in nearly $2 million during the quarter.

Ciresi finished the year with just under $1 million, while Franken had just under $3.1 million. They have their sights set on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who raised $1.7 million and had $6 million in the bank. Coleman and Franken both announced their fundraising numbers earlier this month.

"He's been unable to generate excitement, financial support and support among Minnesotans. The fundraising is a sign of the trouble."

It wasn't Ciresi's first donation to the campaign - he kicked in about $15,000 earlier in 2007 - but it was his first big investment.

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Asked how much Ciresi was willing to donate to the campaign, Greeley said, "We will have all the money we need to stay competitive and be flexible for whatever comes our way."

In his failed 2000 Senate race, Ciresi spent nearly $5 million of his own money. But last February, he said he wasn't planning to self-fund again, although he didn't rule it out.

"No, we'll raise the money," Ciresi told The Associated Press at the time. "I think it's a better way to go." Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr, taking a page from his comedian-turned-candidate boss, quipped, "We agreed with Mr. Ciresi when he said that raising the money was a better way to go. And that's working out pretty well for us, and we're going to stick with that. Al has no plans to put his own money into the race."

Ciresi has listed his net worth at around $26.7 million, far greater than Franken, who listed his worth at between $4.3 million and $9.9 million.

Barr said he didn't think that Ciresi's willingness to tap his fortune for the campaign will alter the dynamics of the race.

"Money doesn't win the DFL endorsement," he said. "The DFL endorsements are won by strong people-powered campaigns, and we're very proud of the ones we've built."

Coleman campaign spokesman Tom Erickson would only say that Coleman hasn't put his own money into the race and doesn't plan to.

But that isn't really a viable option: in his financial disclosure form last year, the senator listed only an IRA rollover valued at $564,000 in his assets.

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, said that Ciresi's donation was evidence of a stalled campaign.

"He's been unable to generate excitement, financial support and support among Minnesotans," Jacobs said. "The fundraising is a sign of the trouble. Of course if he could raise the money, he would. He's unable to do it."

Greeley countered: "Mike has tremendous support throughout the state, and as we have often said, our most precious resource is Mike's time and he is spending it meeting and talking to Democrats who want to caucus."

And she denied that Ciresi's contribution reflected trouble raising money.

"The fundraising's healthy, and we have all the money we need," she said. "We have plenty of money for a DFL endorsement race. And we're going to have all the money we need to go up against Norm Coleman."

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" star, picked up a few celebrity donations, but not as many as he did in the first months of the campaign. Donors last quarter included Steve Martin, Kevin Nealon, Carl Reiner and Joanne Woodward.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)