Fall election battle sends campaign cash to Minnesota

Libby George

It was a busy week for President George W. Bush.

Amid his campaign for action in Iraq, Bush made time for five party fund-raisers this week, bringing his total number of events to nearly 60 and pulling in more than $117 million for Republican candidates.

Former President Bill Clinton was criticized in 2000 for democratic fund-raising efforts totaling approximately $40 million.

Bush’s unprecedented fund-raising efforts and the Republican and Democratic parties are part of the battle to control the Senate.

“I’m here because I want to urge you to do everything you can to make sure that the United States Senate is a Republican Senate,” Bush said at the annual National Republican Senatorial Committee dinner, which raised $8 million Wednesday night.

Currently there are 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one Independent in the Senate. In November, 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats are up for re-election.

Leslie Kupchella, spokeswoman for Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman, said Republican fund-raising efforts aren’t necessarily giving Coleman the financial edge over Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

“I couldn’t say it’s really an advantage for us because we are still trailing Paul Wellstone in the money game,” Kupchella said.

Campaign reports to the Federal Election Commission through June 30, 2002 report that Wellstone leads Coleman in total receipts by roughly $2 million dollars.

The money Bush directly raised is just the tip of the iceberg.

Party fund raising is on the rise in anticipation of the Nov. 5 enforcement of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, which will ban unlimited “soft money” contributions from unions and corporations.

In June, the last time totals were released, the Democratic National Committee had $20 million on hand, compared with the Republican National Committee’s $45 million.

According to the FEC, these amounts are notable because they represent an increase from 2000 levels. Traditionally, more money is raised during presidential election years.

Additionally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are furiously fund raising for the control of the Senate.

By June, the NRSC raised $33.7 million, while the DSCC raised $16 million.

“What we do is target the races that are going to be the most competitive,” NRSC press secretary Dan Allen said.

Bill Walsh, Minnesota Republican Party communications director, said the NRSC has funneled roughly $1 million into Coleman’s campaign this year.

“A lot of the money we spend on Norm Coleman comes from the NRSC,” Walsh said.

Jim Farrell, campaign spokesman for Paul Wellstone, said their campaign feels pressure from Bush’s extensive fund-raising efforts.

“It’s hard to go up against someone who has the power of the Bush fund-raising machine,” Farrell said. “They are running false, negative attack ads funded by money raised by President Bush.”

Thus far, Bush has appeared in two fund-raisers for Coleman, one in March and one in July, which raised $1 million and $400,000 respectively.

Kupchella said she did not think Bush’s influence was as dramatic as Farrell stated.

“We find it hugely helpful Ö but I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage,” Kupchella said. “We are certainly hopeful he’ll be back, but we don’t have any knowledge of another event.”

At the state level, party contribution issues are equally controversial.

Particularly troublesome for parties are state and federal laws that prohibit most direct coordination between parties and groups, which allow “issue advocacy” and not direct plugs for candidates.

The Minnesota DFL, Independent and Green parties claim that the Republican-sponsored ads featuring gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty violate these laws – a claim the party disputes.

“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Walsh said. “We took the raw footage, and the Pawlenty campaign had no idea what we were doing with it.”

The raw footage included Pawlenty discussing personal characteristics, which opponents argue does directly plug his campaign.

“It basically makes campaign finance laws somewhat meaningless,” said Green Party gubernatorial candidate Ken Pentel.

“Already, Tim Pawlenty has had outside-party ads out, and that says, ‘If you’ve got a lot of money, even if you have bad ideas, you can saturate the airwaves and dominate the discussion,’ ” Pentel said.

Republicans argue that ads for Paul Wellstone sponsored by the Democratic Party are similar to those for Pawlenty.

“It’s just like buying a photograph for a direct mailing,” Walsh said. “It’s an independent expenditure. It is the same thing the Democratic Party is doing for Paul Wellstone.”

Democratic Party communications director Bill Amburg says the Wellstone ads are different because “(Pawlenty ads) have featured clips,” and not Wellstone directly speaking into the camera.

For the production of the ads, both parties purchased clips of the candidates from paid media consultants.

Some of the party funding will become illegal with the McCain-Feingold laws on Nov. 5, but Farrell said, “We will abide by one set of rules and not two.”

Pentel said this blurring of lines deters people from politics.

“This is why people don’t want to get involved in politics,” Pentel said. “It’s not one person, one vote. It’s one dollar, one vote.”