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Home / Politics / U.S. Senate race looks to be a high-dollar affair
The modern Congress is often faulted for its inability to actually accomplish much. Even still, the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are as good as ever in at least on area: Raising money toward their own re-election. In keeping with that trend, third-quarter Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports find Minnesota’s delegation is pretty good at collecting checks, with at least one notable — if predictable — exception.

U.S. Senate race looks to be a high-dollar affair

DFL Sen. Al Franken raised $2.1 million to his campaign account during the third quarter, brining his cash on hand to about $3.9 million. A Republican challenger, Mike McFadden, a former financial firm executive, announced he raised $700,000 in the third quarter, approaching his second-quarter figure and bringing his cash on hand to $1.2 million. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)


DFL Sen. Al Franken raised $2.1 million to his campaign account during the third quarter, brining his cash on hand to about $3.9 million. A Republican challenger, Mike McFadden, a former financial firm executive, announced he raised $700,000 in the third quarter, approaching his second-quarter figure and bringing his cash on hand to $1.2 million. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Republican U.S. House candidates Emmer and Mills also report large third-quarter fundraising totals

The modern Congress is often faulted for its inability to actually accomplish much. Even so, the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are as good as ever in at least one area: raising money toward their own re-election. In keeping with that trend, third-quarter Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports find Minnesota’s delegation is pretty good at collecting checks, with at least one notable — if predictable — exception.

One year removed from Election Day, an overview of campaign finance reports finds some candidates sitting on bloated bank accounts, while others are struggling to collect money that’s not coming from their own pockets.

Franken, McFadden build money machines

DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken has been a successful fundraiser since he first got into politics: In his first two months as a candidate in early 2007, Franken collected $1.3 million. As an incumbent, Franken’s efforts have been even more fruitful, as he’s continued to build up a network of donors, both in-state and otherwise.

Franken added $2.1 million to his campaign account during the third quarter, bringing his cash on hand to about $3.9 million. That amount came thanks to a combination of many small donations from Minnesotans, according to his campaign, and a few large ones from his friends in Hollywood, some of whom have contributed the maximum $5,200 amount.

“Franken’s got a national profile, so he’s got a national donor base,” said Ben Golnik of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a conservative advocacy group.

Golnik did point out that Franken has a high “burn rate,” meaning he tends to spend a lot of money to fill his coffers. During the last quarter, Franken spent heavily on consulting and donor outreach, as did his “Franken MVPs” political action committee, which routed $231,000 into Franken’s campaign account.

To Golnik’s way of thinking, a competitive Republican candidate should plan to raise and spend $10 million before next year’s election to keep up with Franken, who might spend twice that amount.

So far, the only Republican approaching that rate is Mike McFadden, the former financial firm executive who has also proven adept at convincing people to invest in a political candidate. McFadden announced raised $700,000 in the third quarter, approaching his second-quarter figure and bringing his cash on hand to $1.2 million. Several observers said McFadden’s approach is obvious: The newcomer to state politics is eschewing chances to glad-hand the party activists who will determine the party endorsement, and instead preparing himself for a potentially costly primary election. There are five other Republicans also seeking the endorsement to challenge Franken. On one occasion last month, McFadden skipped a county-level function attended by other GOP candidates in order to hold his own private fundraiser.

Republican consultant and activist Gregg Peppin said he’d had several conversations with party insiders during the past week about McFadden’s approach as compared to that of state Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, another candidate for the U.S. Senate. Ortman raised about $120,000 since her announcement in early August, and has taken a more traditional route of reaching out to activists in the hopes of gaining delegate support, as has St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, whose official declaration came after the quarterly reporting date. Also out on the GOP side, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, told the Associated Press that his campaign would report $60,000 in total contributions, with $35,000 cash on hand.

Peppin wondered aloud whether McFadden was setting a “new model” for Republican campaigns, pointing out that Democrats had, in the past, paid less attention to the party endorsement and instead focused on the primary result.

“Will [Republicans] reward courting, or do they want the person who’s most electable, has the best campaign and TV ads?” Peppin asked. “It’s all kind of new for us Republicans here.”

Sixth District donors and loaners

Tom Emmer continued his statistical domination in the 6th District race, where whichever Republican candidate survives is almost assured of winning the seat held by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. Emmer raised $152,000 during the reporting period, and ended September with about $275,000 cash on hand. No other candidate came close to that total in terms of donations, but two boosted their quarterly haul with large self-loans to their campaigns.

Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah loaned her account $150,000 of her own money, while former legislator and late 6th District entrant Phil Krinkie doubled that, dropping $300,000 into his campaign. Sivarajah finished the quarter with $184,000 cash on hand, while Krinkie leads all candidates with $314,000 to spend.

Peppin thinks the current totals are not insignificant, but suggested that the district isn’t one that can be bought. He recalled Bachmann’s successful organizing efforts, which united a number of the area’s issue-oriented activist groups on topics such as home schooling, evangelical Christianity and fiscal conservatism.

“[Bachmann] was able to engender a huge base of followers, and it wasn’t predicated on a large expenditure of dollars,” he said.

Eight District streams expected to get washed out 

DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan does not care to raise money. The incumbent has communicated that fact through interviews and has hammered the point home through his low fundraising totals reported to the FEC. During the third quarter, Nolan brought in just $129,000.

In his first three months as a congressional candidate, Republican Stewart Mills III nearly doubled Nolan’s effort, reporting $244,000 raised and about $234,000 cash on hand. His holdings put Mills within striking distance of the $261,000 Nolan has in the bank.

That Mills outperformed the incumbent did not surprise DFL activist Sarah Lewerenz, who pointed to Nolan’s well-known aversion to the practice, and the personal connections Mills has gained through his work as vice president of Mills Fleet Farm, a successful outdoors and farming supply chain.

“Fundraising is about asking people for money,” Lewerenz said. “And he’s got a lot of people to ask.”

Indeed, a good chunk of Mills’ total came through familial connections. Seven different family members, including Mills and his wife, Heather, donated to the campaign. Each member gave the maximum $5,200 amount, meaning the total family contribution comes to $36,400.

No other Republican candidate has expressed public interest in challenging Mills, and Golnik thinks his report ends any discussion of another entrant. What’s more, Mills outraising Nolan has gotten coverage in some of the Washington, D.C., press, and Golnik thinks that attention will likely bring in more national-level donors looking to help steal a Democratic House seat.

Peppin thinks the slant in favor of Mills and the PAC-centric source of Nolan’s total suggests that the DFLer might not be connecting in his own district. Lewerenz disagreed, saying Nolan can run on his record as a populist, a profile that will play particularly well in the 8th District. Besides, Lewerenz said, most everyone expects the race to mirror 2012, when national groups on both sides upped the campaign stakes to the tune of $9.3 million worth of independent expenditures.

“In 2012, a lot of other people kind of picked up the slack [for Nolan] and raised the money, and paid for the advertising,” Lewerenz said. “I don’t expect that 2014 is going to be any different.”

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