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Kline, Paulsen in good financial shape for 2012

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Republican Rep. John Kline
Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota raised $250,000 in the first quarter of 2011.
AP Photo/Dawn Villella

Members of Congress are reporting campaign fundraising totals for the first three months of the year. 

The average amount spent by a winning congressional campaign last year was about $1.5 million. That means campaigns need to raise an average of $190,000 every quarter to stay on track.

By that standard Republican Reps. John Kline, who raised $250,000 in the first quarter, and Erik Paulsen, who collected $336,000, are in good shape.

GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann raised $1.7 million in that period, much of it from small donors. 

"That puts them generally in the upper echelon of fundraising," said Dave Levinthal, communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

"Any time you crack six figures in the first quarter of an election cycle when you've got seven left to go, you probably feel pretty good about yourself,"  Levinthal said.

Even though this is just the beginning of the next congressional campaign cycle, this round of fundraising is important, according to Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier.

"Oh, early money gets a lot of attention," Schier said. "Campaigns prefer early money because it allows them to show how competitive they can be in the cycle. It also allows them to make a lot of resource decisions early."

Eighth District Congressman Chip Cravaack -- who's in his first term -- lagged behind the other Republicans, raising $122,000.

Chip Cravaack
Eighth District Rep. Chip Cravaack
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

That's also less than most GOP freshmen, who averaged $176,000 this quarter, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Cravaack's relatively low haul may be a problem, said Schier, because the DFL thinks it can recapture his district next year.

"So I actually think he'll need to pick up his fundraising pace because he is very likely to get a quality opponent and a well-funded opponent," Schier said.

Mike Tomberlin is Cravaack's chief of staff and also helps with the campaign. He concedes that next quarter, the campaign will try harder to raise money.

"We look forward to a more focused and aggressive second quarter," Tomberlin said. "We're excited about moving forward from here. Obviously it was a really busy first few months here in D.C."

Most of Cravaack's money comes from within Minnesota.

But one contribution stands out -- $1,000 from General Electric's political action committee.

Although Cravaack is a spending hawk, he voted for an amendment that would have continued funding for a second jet engine produced by GE for the F-35 jet fighter, even though the Pentagon said it didn't need the engine. 

John Kline, from the state's second Second District, saw his fundraising haul nearly double compared to the first quarter two years ago. When Republicans took control of the House, Kline became the chair of the Education and Workforce committee. 

"Those two changes produce a big increase in the amount of money he raises and also increases the amount of money he raises out of state because important committee chairs draw interest group and individual contributions from all over the country," said Schier.

Indeed, at the same point in the fundraising cycle in 2009, most of Kline's money came from within the state. This year more than 70 percent of it came from outside of Minnesota.

And the for-profit education and student loan industries -- which Kline's committee oversees -- went from giving almost no money to him to giving more than $76,000 in the most recent quarter. 

Those are industries Kline is using his new position to fight hard for. He's trying to overturn new Education Department regulations that could cut back federal student loans to for-profit schools.

Meanwhile, Paulsen also had a very good quarter. Paulsen raised 60 percent more than he did in the first quarter of 2009. Paulsen has gotten a plum new assignment to the taxwriting Ways and Means Committee. Schier said that's one reason why his fundraising has increased.

"When you're in a position like that, it's very easy to draw a large amount of campaign contributions from affected individuals and interests."

Erik Paulsen
Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen
MPR photo/Tom Weber

In fact, Paulsen collected more than $80,000 from donors who described themselves as CEOs and top executives. 

Paulsen may need the money to scare of potential challengers. While he cruised to an easy reelection last year, it's a district that voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

And this is just the first lap of a long race. Expect to see these fundraising numbers get even larger as the election season really gets underway next year.