Senate candidates still raking in cash

Al Franken
While Al Franken hasn't been as visible as Norm Coleman, he has been actively raising money for the Senate election trial.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Four months after the election, Al Franken's latest fundraising email this week warns that Norm Coleman plans to litigate the election results until he wins. By "clicking here," the email says, supporters can "help Al take his seat in the senate."

When the U.S. Senate recount began, both the Franken and Coleman campaigns predicted the process would be expensive. Each said they thought they would probably need more than $1 million.

To date the two have stuffed their recount war chests with more than $11 million.

The Franken campaign said it has raised about $6 million. The Coleman side said it has raised about $5 million.

A lot of the money is coming from outside of Minnesota.

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In a speech late last week to the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex. talked about the need for the GOP to rebuild a majority in the senate. Cornyn said the first task is to get Coleman back.

"The Democrats are up to their old tricks up there in the land of 10,000 lakes which has now become the land of 10,000 lawyers as Al Franken continues to try and steal this election," Cornyn said.

For the record, it was Norm Coleman who decided to sue over the recount results, not Al Franken.

The charged rhetoric is familiar. Cornyn and other GOP heavyweights have not been shy about weighing-in on the lawsuit. The hope is that by firing-up the base, they can convince the faithful to pony up more money for the fight.

In a recently released video, Republican Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is one of nearly a dozen GOP Senators making direct appeals for help in paying Coleman's legal bills.

"America needs Norm Coleman in the Senate, and I hope you will participate in helping make that possible," McConnell said in the video.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also appeared in the video.

"This is the time to step up and help Norm because he's been there for us," said Graham.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said the longer the battle drags on, the harder it is to raise money. But Sheehan said efforts like the new video usually lead to an uptick in fundraising.

"It's a huge help," Sheehan said. "Obviously people around the country know their own senators and know some national figures, and when they're saying 'please support Norm Coleman' or in Al Franken's case, Al Franken, it just helps with the national fundraising."

Franken's post-election fundraising has been outpacing Coleman's.

Attorney for Al Franken Marc Elias
Marc Elias, lead attorney for the Franken campaign, said he is confident that Franken will be declared the winner.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

In an effort to raise even more money from supporters who've already given the maximum legal amount, Franken is asking the Federal Election Commission for permission to treat the election lawsuit essentially as a new election.

Franken also wants the commission to allow national party groups, namely the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to operate annual recount funds separate from their core fundraising. State parties already have that authority. The change would be another way to funnel more national money to the candidate's legal bills.

"I think the question one makes absolute sense," said Franken attorney Marc Elias. "The fact is there isn't any reason why candidates would get new limits and state parties would get new limits and national parties would not. Question two? it makes analytical sense to me that a contest is distinct from the recount, but it's an open enough question that we thought it appropriate to ask the FEC."

Elias said he doesn't know how much money the new funds would bring in.

Cullen Sheehan, from the Coleman campaign, said he has no objections to Franken's proposal. Sheehan says Coleman too could benefit.

"Obviously it would be a help to both sides," Sheehan said. "I believe in order to take more money because it has been a long drawn-out process, I think it's gone on longer than most people thought it would and it's going to continue here for at least a few more weeks."

The Franken campaign asked the FEC for a quick ruling on its fundraising request. But it is unclear when the commission will make a decision.

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