GOP spent $900,000 to help Coleman pay legal bills

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE
  • Star Tribune
  • June 23, 2009 - 8:15 PM

In another sign of the high stakes in Minnesota's disputed U.S. Senate election, Republicans are giving big donations to a national fundraising organization to help Norm Coleman fight to reclaim his seat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent nearly $938,000 in May to help Coleman, with most of it going to pay legal bills to firms in Minneapolis and Washington.

The organization's Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, reported raising more than $282,000 in May contributions earmarked for the recount.

Finding new sources of revenue has become increasingly important as legal fees and other expenses associated with the election recount and courtroom proceedings are believed to have exceeded $12 million for Coleman and DFLer Al Franken. A ruling is expected any day from the Minnesota Supreme Court on Coleman's appeal of an election trial ruling that Franken finished on top by 312 votes.

Among those earmarking money to the recount through the Republican organization is Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Venetian Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas. He gave the maximum of $30,400. Home builder Bob Perry of Houston, a contributor to the Swift Boat campaign against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, also contributed $30,400.

On the Democratic side, much of the donated money came from California entertainment industry figures. David Geffen, a founder of Dreamworks movies, gave $5,000, and other industry moguls also contributed. Singer Barbra Streisand and composer Burt Bacharach also gave money.

FEC ruling helped

In March, the national organizations became new vehicles for paying expenses of the two candidates. That's when Franken and Coleman, through their allies, persuaded the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to clear the way for national party organizations to pay some of the millions of dollars in expenses for lawyers and other workers during the recount and election trial. The ruling will help them pay bills remaining from the seven-week trial, as well as expenses from the battle before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The decision gave the candidates another chance to tap their most affluent and passionate supporters even if they already gave maximum contributions during the election year.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said the organization is "making sure that the right person, the person with the most votes, is declared the winner."

Hamline law Prof. David Schultz, who has followed campaign financing, sees another motive in the fundraising: rallying the troops. The fight against Franken could do more to rally support than fundraising for the 2010 congressional elections, he said.

"It keeps the Republican base hot and bothered," he said. "It says, 'We're fighting this thing and making sure Democrats don't get their way.'"

The disbursements appear to be for immediate expenses, however. The Minneapolis law firm Dorsey and Whitney got $360,000 and Patton Boggs of Washington got $246,000.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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