Minnesota wasn't known for ultra-expensive political races until Al Franken, Norm Coleman and their well-heeled supporters toed the line to run for the U.S. Senate.

It turns out that they raised more money than any other Senate candidates in the 2008 election cycle, according to the latest ranking by the Federal Election Commission.

Franken collected the most, $22.5 million, while Coleman raised $19.3 million. The FEC ranking accounts for funds raised between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2008, and doesn't include most of the $21 million the candidates and their allies raised for the recount battle.

Third place went to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who raised $18.6 million. Mike Ciresi, who ran unsuccessfully for the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate in Minnesota, appeared 43rd on the list with $3.9 million. In contrast to the 2008 race, Coleman brought in just under $10 million for his 2002 campaign against the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

On the House side, Rep. Michele Bachmann placed 28th nationwide with $3.5 million. Her challenger, Elwyn Tinklenberg, was the only other Minnesotan in the top 50 at $2.9 million.

ERIC ROPER

Senators condemn plan to force Hmong refugees back to Laos

Mindful of the growing Hmong populations in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the states' U.S. senators joined forces this week to oppose the Thai government's plans to forcibly repatriate more than 4,000 Hmong refugees to Laos.

The four Democrats, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota and Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, said they "strongly condemn" Thailand's decision, which they say ignores the objections of the United Nations, the United Sates and human rights groups.

The statement reads in part: "We share the concern of many of our Hmong-American constituents whose loved ones have been forced to return, and we will be paying close attention as the Hmong are resettled in Laos."

The Hmong tribesmen of Laos were helpful to the CIA and U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War. After the fall of Saigon, many ended up in refugee camps in Thailand, from there to immigrate to the United States, with the Twin Cities as a major welcoming destination.

This month, Klobuchar and Franken were among several senators who wrote directly to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, expressing their concerns about the refugees.

KEVIN DIAZ

Bachmann expands her role as national GOP fundraiser

In a sign of her growing stature as a moneymaker for her party, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is slated to headline an annual Republican fundraiser February in Ohio.

"For me, it's about looking to the future," Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou said of Bachmann, who has forged an image as a fiery conservative in Congress. "We could look back and have some ... of the grand poo-bahs of the party showing up or we can have somebody that is emerging onto the national scene. And that's why we thought she would be exciting."

Triantafilou said he thinks Bachmann is "the right person at the right moment" in the Cincinnati area, which has an active movement of Tea Party conservatives.

The campaign of DFLer Tarryl Clark, who is running for Congress in the Sixth, attacked Bachmann for "promoting her personal agenda and continuing to obstruct reform ... speaking at Tea Party Conventions and raising money from her national conservative base."

ERIC ROPER