Campaigns continue to raise money to fund recount efforts

Hard at work in Coleman headquarters
Workers and volunteers work the phones to raise funds for the Coleman campaign. Both campaigns are raising money during the recount in order to fund their operations.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

It seems harder to find a parking spot at Al Franken's headquarters now than it was in the frenzy leading up to Election Day. And inside, the place is packed and bustling with activity.

To pay for the campaigns, that did not end on November 4, Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken have been appealing to supporters for more money.

Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr
Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said the campaign needs money to pay salaries, including his, as well as money to pay rent and utilities, during the recount.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"What we're telling people is that, we have to keep the campaign up and running for at least a month," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr. "Let's hope it's just a month or two past when we had budgeted for, because the campaign was supposed to end on election night."

Barr said that means, in addition to paying salaries, including his, the campaign needs money to pay rent and utilities. Not to mention recount attorneys.

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How much might it all cost?

"We don't know. We don't know what the ultimate result of this is going to be or how long it's going to take or how much it's going to cost, but yeah, it's going to be expensive," Barr said. "Sometimes when you have a really close race this is the sort of thing that you have to do to make sure you're accurately determining what the voters said on November 4."

Franken and Coleman are raising money through their campaign committees and both are also getting help from their state parties. Federal Election Commission rules treat recount fundraising just like a new election so previously maxed out donors can start over and directly give a campaign up to $2,300. Individuals can also give up to $10,000 to state parties.

Neither the Coleman nor the Franken camp will say how much they've collected or exactly who the money's coming from. Both had initially predicted their recount operations would each cost more than one million dollars. Coleman Campaign Director Cullen Sheehan said he thinks the cost will be double that for each side and that's only if it all gets wrapped up within the next several weeks.

"The recount has been a huge learning experience for me and I'm sure a lot of other people too," Sheehan said. "I'm sure it's just a massive organizational undertaking, that takes a lot of money."

Behind the doors of the Coleman campaign recount war room, volunteers and staffers sit at long tables talking on telephones and typing into laptop computers.

For the past month, both Coleman and Franken could make fundraising appeals using the argument that if Franken were elected, Democrats could potentially end up with a 60-member, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

But that 60 vote threshold is impossible now that Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss has won his Georgia runoff election.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said, even though the 60 threshold is no longer part of the picture, the outcome of Minnesota's Senate race remains very important on the national level. Schier said that means money from all over the country will continue pouring into Minnesota recount battle. "The Minnesota outcome will probably determine the outcome of some specific legislative products over the next two years in the Senate, so it's wrong to think that now that you're not reaching 60 this makes no difference," Schier said.

The last major statewide recount took place in Washington State to settle a 2004 gubernatorial battle. It cost the two sides a total of more than $4 million.

University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Larry Jacobs is predicting, by the time Minnesota's recount is done, it will have cost Republicans and Democrats double that.

"My hunch is by the end of the day this recount and the contested election could well be close to $5 million for each campaign," Jacobs said. "This has become literally an army of folks for each campaign that's had to be mobilized. Very expensive."

The last of the counties are scheduled to be done with the recount by the end of the day Friday. The focus will then turn to the thousands of challenged ballots.