Minnesota U.S. Sen. Tina Smith raised $1.3 million between July and September, down slightly from the $1.5 million she raised in the year’s second quarter, leaving her with $2.7 million cash on hand as she confronts GOP challenger Jason Lewis in 2020.
Lewis, a former congressman, reported a cash haul of $413,144 between the Aug. 22 launch of his campaign and Sept. 30, the end of the second-quarter reporting period. After expenses, his campaign reported a balance of $360,529 heading into October.
Tuesday’s campaign finance reports offered the first glimpse of the money chase in the upcoming Senate race between Lewis and Smith, who is facing her second election since she was appointed to the Senate by former Gov. Mark Dayton in January 2018.
In what could be the state’s marquee race outside of the presidential election, Lewis and other Minnesota Republicans have seen their campaigns indirectly connected to political contributions from two associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, who have been implicated in a scheme to funnel money to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Lewis’ campaign said he did not solicit or receive any direct contributions from the men, who were arrested last week as they attempted to flee the United States.
Lewis, who got an endorsement from Trump at his Minneapolis rally last week, is counting on a strong showing in greater Minnesota next year to give Republicans their first Minnesota U.S. Senate seat in more than a decade. He also could be helped by the Trump campaign’s decision to target Minnesota, a state that hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1972.
Presenting himself as a viable statewide candidate, Lewis, a former radio show host, said his campaign raised 85% of its money outside the Second Congressional District, which he lost to Democrat Angie Craig last year. Lewis also said that roughly 90% of his donations came from within Minnesota, with an average contribution of $238.95.
Lewis has come under fire from Democrats as one of dozens of Republican congressmen who benefited from political contributions from one of two Ukrainian associates of Giuliani who have since been charged with conspiring to route foreign money into GOP campaign coffers.
Lewis’ 2018 congressional campaign received about $2,432 from Igor Fruman, according to FEC filings. Along with Lev Parnas, Fruman allegedly sought to leverage political cash to force out the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, part of an effort that is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry in Congress.
Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin sharply criticized Lewis and other Minnesota Republicans for not condemning foreign meddling in U.S. elections or calls by Trump for Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 challenger.
Besides Lewis, other political entities receiving money from Fruman and Parnas include the Minnesota Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee, headed by Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer. Martin noted that the NRCC and many other GOP lawmakers around the nation have returned the money, though Lewis and the Minnesota GOP have not.
“By failing to speak out, Minnesota Republicans are lending tacit support to hostile foreign governments and bad actors across the globe who are weaponizing American democracy for their own benefit,” Martin said in a statement.
Lewis’ campaign said this week that the Lewis for Congress Campaign neither solicited nor directly received money from Fruman. Rather, the money came through a joint fundraising committee that benefited Lewis’ campaign alongside 22 other House candidates. On Monday, Lewis’ campaign asked the Protect the House Joint Fundraising Committee to return the money it received from Fruman.
“At no time did the Lewis for Congress campaign solicit donations from Igor Fruman or receive a direct donation from him, period,” said Tom Szymanski, Lewis’ campaign manager. “Fruman’s donation was made a year and a half ago to a Joint Fundraising Committee (JFC) which Lewis for Congress was a beneficiary of, the operations of which Lewis for Congress had no control over. Had Fruman’s alleged criminal behavior been known at the time of his donation, clearly the JFC would have refused his donation.”