Senate candidates rake in big money

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

They complain, then accept

By Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio News

ST. PAUL — When it comes to money in politics, U.S. Sen. Al Franken often complains that there is just too much of it.

Al Franken

Al Franken

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But when Franken called the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the door for corporations, unions and individuals to spend unlimited amounts on candidates a “disaster” earlier this month, his impassioned Senate floor speech disguised a central fact of his campaign, and that of his Republican opponent, businessman Mike McFadden.

Both are benefiting from a sophisticated network of donors and committees that have flourished in the wake of the legal decisions Franken and others often criticize.

The U.S. Senate race between Franken and McFadden is not expected to be the most expensive statewide race in the country but both campaigns are expected to spend millions.

So far, Franken has raised $15 million and has spent about $12 million. More than $1.5 million of that has come from joint-fundraising committees, which allow candidates and political parties to team-up and split the proceeds from a fundraising event.

Such funds aren’t new, but they have proliferated in recent years. After another Supreme Court decision earlier this year lifted the total amount a single donor can give to candidates, PACs, and other fundraising entities, they’ve become far more popular, said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on campaign finance and elections.

Mike McFadden

Mike McFadden

Following the court’s ruling in McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, donors still are limited in how much they can give a candidate. But joint fundraising committees allow a single donor to cut a much larger check to be divided among candidates, Noble said.

“They allow wealthy donors to give a lot more money,” Noble said. “It makes sense for the candidate to partner with as many different entities as they can.”

When the court announced its decision this spring, Franken said it was a terrible one because it gives “wealthy, well-funded corporate interests undue influence, access, and power.”

“Ordinary people in Minnesota and around the country don’t have the luxury of pouring millions into political campaigns,” Franken said.