Senate campaigns amassing attorneys and more money

Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead attorney
Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman's lead attorney, said hundreds of volunteers and at least 120 attorneys will fan out across the state to watch as every ballot is counted.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Even though there's one week until the recount begins, the campaigns for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken are gearing up for the effort.

Both campaigns have been actively raising funds for the recount and now they're calling for volunteers.

Coleman's lead campaign lawyer, Fritz Knaak, says hundreds of volunteers and at least 120 attorneys will fan out across the state to watch as every ballot is counted.

Graphic: Changing vote tallies
Vote tallies are often adjusted in excess of 1,000 votes as election officials double check their number when canvassing an election. The 2002 U.S. Senate election in Minnesota saw the vote totals for both Republican Norm Coleman and DFLer Walter Mondale adjusted by more than 50,000 votes.
MPR Graphic/Than Tibbetts

"What we anticipate is that we are going to have at least one if not two people at every table where the count is happening and we anticipate that we are going to have at least one lawyer at every location," Knaak said. "That is our objective and I'm expecting that given the importance of this recount that you're going to see those kinds of resources devoted on both sides."

When asked how much it will cost for such an effort, Knaak couldn't offer specifics except to say "a lot."

He did say that people across the country have volunteered to help but hoped that he could rely on Minnesotans to provide most of the assistance.

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Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, estimated that it could cost the campaign upwards of $1 million to pay for the entire effort.

Elections officials go through results
Hennepin County Elections Manager Michelle Desjardin go through election results. The Hennepin County canvassing board has rejected Al Franken's campaign's request to count some absentee ballots that had been declared invalid.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"You've got to recruit volunteers and volunteer lawyers to do the counting of ballots next week so it's quite a large operation and a pretty intense one that gets compacted down to four to six weeks. ," Sheehan said. "It's not cheap so you have to keep raising money to keep the lights on and keep people paid."

Both Coleman and Franken have set up separate recount funds to pay for the effort. The campaigns, along with party units, have also sent out fundraising alerts asking for help.

Franken campaign spokeswoman Jess McIntosh wouldn't offer specifics on their fundraising plans except to say they're relying on their grassroots network.

A recent alert to supporters also called for volunteer observers and housing for those who will be working the recount.

Ballot box
This ballot box holds absentee ballots marked in person at the Ramsey County elections office in St. Paul. The ballots are distributed to the correct polling places on Election Day.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"Details are going to be forthcoming but we are assembling a team of supporters staff, volunteers and legal counsel to ensure that the hand count is conducted fairly and every vote is counted properly," McIntosh said. "We're going to cover every site and we'll be providing more details about our operation in the coming days."

An official with The Campaign Legal Center said both campaigns can rely on their core group of supporters to help them pay for their recount efforts.

Tara Malloy, an associate counsel with the Washington, D.C. group, says federal election law allows both Coleman and Franken to tap donors who have already given the legal limit during the election cycle.

"Although you are say, subject to the contribution limits, $2300, you essentially get to restart that," Malloy said. "So if you have a big donor who likes you a lot and they have maxed out their contribution limits in the primary and in the general election, they can donate again because that's considered separate."

Ramsey County canvassers
Ramsey County's canvassing board met in St. Paul on Friday to certify the results of the 2008 election. Each had to sign a document certifying the results were correct.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

There are limits on how much a donor can give, however. Malloy said the Federal Elections Commission voted in 2006 to impose limits on how much an individual can give to a Recount Fund. Prior to that, there were no limits, she said.

Malloy also said that state parties, national parties, and the political arms of the Senate can also raise money and coordinate for the recount.

"I think it will depend on who has money and energy at this point but certainly the candidate can look beyond his own fundraising shop so to speak," she said.

Coleman spokesman Cullen Sheehan said Republican Party units are providing assistance and staff for the effort but are not paying for the attorneys. He said that most of the organizing and the fundraising is being done by the Coleman campaign.

Franken's campaign would not offer specifics on who the campaign is working with on the recount effort.