FEC: National committees can raise recount funds

Al Franken
DFLer Al Franken says he is confident he'll win the Minnesota Senate election trial.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

(AP) - While Norm Coleman and Al Franken remain locked in a seemingly endless battle over the Minnesota Senate seat, their respective Republican and Democratic parties are getting new authority to help them pay mounting legal bills.

In an advisory opinion, the Federal Election Commission said national party committees can tap their donor bases for five-figure checks toward a recount and election contest fund.

The donations won't count against contribution limits for general campaigning by the entities, which include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The new fundraising avenue could extend a Senate race now almost five months past Election Day. A Minnesota court is expected to rule at any time whether Franken's 225-vote lead after a manual recount should stand, but the trailing candidate is likely to appeal.

"This makes it easier to raise the money, but it would persist anyway."

Since the Nov. 4 election, both campaigns have raised and spent millions more dollars on the statewide recount of 2.9 million ballots and the seven-week trial that followed.

Under the FEC opinion, the national parties can seek up to $30,400 from individuals, many times what Franken and Coleman can solicit on their own.

Committees that raise money for multiple candidates can kick in $15,000 per year, even if they maxed out during the campaign.

It's not clear how soon the parties will put their new power into action; neither Senate campaign arm immediately responded to questions Tuesday.

Franken's campaign requested the FEC's clearance in February, and Republican groups supporting Coleman added their encouragement soon after.

"The confidence of Minnesota voters in the outcome of the 2008 Senate election is at stake. These are vital and shared interests of the candidates, the state party, and the national parties, and interests that require a terrific amount of resources to defend," lawyers for three Republican committees wrote to the FEC.

Paul Herrnson, a professor of government at the University of Maryland, said the decision changes little.

Several high-ranking Republicans have urged Coleman to keep the fight going and keep Franken from giving Democrats their 59th vote in a chamber where a simple majority doesn't cut it, he noted.

"This makes it easier to raise the money, but it would persist anyway," Herrnson said. "These candidates are too focused on this. There are national ramifications in terms of policymaking. So the money was going to flow no matter what."

Campaign watchdog groups opposed the party request for more fundraising latitude.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)