Sunday, April 08, 2007

Whatever the Postmarks Say, The Checks Are Made Out to Franken
Whatever the Postmarks Say, The Checks Are Made Out to Franken
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, gosh darn it, he can raise the money.

Al Franken, that is. Franken, comedian-turned-Senate candidate, piled up $1.3 million in contributions over the first three months of the year -- wowing neutral observers and proving that he is serious about his race in Minnesota against freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R).

Franken collected $300,000 more than Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a top target for Republicans in 2008, and came within $400,000 of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). He blew away the $580,000 Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) raised in the first quarter of 2005 to win the Senate race last year.

"Some have reported/opined that Democrats are 'nervous' about the prospect of an Al Franken candidacy," read a memo distributed by his campaign. "Perhaps a better term would be 'really, really excited.' "

Republicans have worked to call attention to the sources of Franken's money, arguing that he is funded largely by out-of-state liberals with ties to the entertainment industry. The political action committee Franken created as a precursor to his Senate campaign received donations from such well-known liberals as Barbra Streisand, Nora Ephron and Larry David, and Franken received contributions from stars such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep during the first three months of his Senate candidacy.

But spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said that more contributions were made by Minnesotans than by residents of any other state to Franken's Senate account. "The money itself may not break down that way dollar for dollar, but Minnesotans are notoriously slow to open their wallets in races like this one," McIntosh said.

Neither Coleman nor Mike Ciresi, who is also running for the Democratic Senate nomination, was interested in critiquing Franken's fundraising efforts.

"It's not surprising," said Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan, who would add only that "I don't even know if Franken is going to be the nominee." Coleman collected $1.5 million in the first quarter and ended March with nearly $3 million in the bank.

Ciresi campaign manager Kerry Greeley, who guided Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) to victory last fall, said Franken's fundraising means only that it is a two-person race for the Democratic nod -- although Ciresi did not actively solicit cash in the first fundraising quarter.

Ciresi "can raise at that level," Greeley insisted. "He has the connections and history of doing so."
Another April Filing Rush

Expect a flood of House candidates to formally announce their 2008 bids in the next two weeks. Why? The candidates held off filing their official paperwork prior to the March 31 first quarter fundraising deadline, hoping to avoid the negative perception that raising a meager amount of cash in the first three months of 2007 could create. With the second quarter just beginning, candidates in top targeted races will move quickly to begin the long fundraising slog. In the past week, Kansas Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R) has jumped into the race in the Kansas 2nd and 2006 candidate Dan Maffei (D) has unveiled his plans for a rematch against Rep. James Walsh (R) in New York's 25th District.


MVP for the first fundraising quarter: Julianna Smoot, finance director for the Barack Obama campaign. A North Carolina native and Smith College grad, Smoot learned her trade in the Senate, as a fundraiser for Richard Durbin (Ill.), John Edwards (N.C.) and then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). In the 2006 cycle, she served as finance director for the Senate Democratic campaign chairman, Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), raising record sums in the party's successful bid to win Senate control. Obama contacted her shortly after the November election. "She's a fine person," said Schumer, who called Smoot to congratulate her once the Obama numbers were in. "I'm very proud of her."