Cash pours into state campaigns from afar

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 17, 2012 - 11:16 AM

Candidates increasingly find money outside of Minnesota.

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Michele Bachmann

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WASHINGTON -- Riding a wave of national publicity fed by her six-month quest for the presidency, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann took in the biggest haul of campaign cash of any Minnesota politician in the past three months, most of it from out of state.

Facing what could be a well-funded challenge from DFL millionaire businessman Jim Graves, the Minnesota Republican has turned to a nationwide base of donors built over the course of her Tea Party-tinged run for the GOP presidential nomination last year.

A Star Tribune analysis of her most recent financial reports shows that up to 80 percent of her reported contributions came from individuals outside Minnesota, up from 63 percent in a similar study done in April 2010.

In the first election where well-funded independent groups will have a free hand in spending on the state's most competitive races, Bachmann is not the only candidate casting her net far and wide via the Internet to bolster her campaign's finances.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat facing her first re-election contest this year, has received 44 percent of her individual contributions from out of state since she took office in 2007.

Much as in the hard-fought recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the latest financial reports from Minnesota tell the story of a growing nationalization of competitive state and federal elections, with money pouring in from coast to coast.

Bachmann's $1.9 million fundraising total for the second quarter of this year ranked her second in the U.S. House, bested only by fellow Tea Party activist Allen West, R-Fla., who pulled in $2.2 million. Bachmann's take exceeded that of Klobuchar, who raised just under $1 million over the same period.

Both demonstrated the power of incumbency in reaching a national base of donors, even if their high-visibility track records provide fodder for their cash-poor challengers.

"It should come as a surprise to no one that follows Senator Klobuchar's votes to bail out Wall Street that three of her biggest financial supporters would be lawyers, lobbyists and Wall Street fat cats," said Mike Osskopp, a spokesman for GOP challenger Kurt Bills, whose $243,000 fundraising total for the past quarter was less than a third of Klobuchar's $950,000.

Klobuchar said that support from outside the state is inevitable on the national political stage. "You're always going to get some money from within your state and outside," she said. "But I think it is very important to have strong support within your state."

Klobuchar noted that her average contribution in the last quarter was under $100.

In contrast to Bachmann, Graves got only about 15 percent of his contributions from outside Minnesota. Graves spokesman Donald McFarland cited Bachmann's presidential run and Tea Party activism for her huge fundraising advantage over the DFL challenger, who raised $400,000 in the past quarter, including $150,000 of his own money.

"She spent the last year going around the country, focusing on her celebrity," McFarland said. "She's been everywhere but in the Sixth District."

The Bachmann campaign did not respond to a request for comment on her out-of-state split, but in announcing her latest numbers, Bachmann emphasized her more than 40,000 contributions averaging less than $45 apiece. "It just goes to demonstrate her widespread appeal," said Bachmann campaign manager Chase Kroll.

She received at least $1,100 in itemized donations from every state in the union except Idaho, according to the newspaper analysis.

'Always been about money'

Bachmann's 2010 opponent, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, got 38 percent of her itemized contributions from outside Minnesota that year. This quarter, in her bid to challenge GOP freshman Chip Cravaack, Clark raised her out-of-state portion to 64 percent, according to numbers her campaign released Monday.

While Cravaack has more than a three-to-one advantage over Clark in cash on hand, he raised about 85 percent of his funds from Minnesotans. The same is true for DFL-endorsed candidate Rick Nolan, who faces an Aug. 14 primary challenge from Clark and former Duluth City Council President Jeff Anderson.

Anderson, far behind in the money chase, got 96 percent of his money from within the state.

"Modern-day elections have always been about money," said Nolan, who served three terms in Congress between 1975 and 1981. What's changed, he said, are the increasingly large sums involved, which force candidates to expand their fundraising networks. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision lifting restrictions on independent political expenditures has also raised the stakes, he said.

The far-flung hunt for campaign cash could also reflect the disparities in wealth between different states and congressional districts. "Just look at Minnesota," Nolan said. "The Eighth District [in northern Minnesota] doesn't have anywhere near the money that the Third District [western Twin Cities suburbs] has."

Staff Writer Jim Spencer contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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