Weather Forecast


Millions spent in Senate recount

Judge Elizabeth Hayden of Stearns County presided over the start of the second week of the U.S. Senate recount trial in St. Paul. Pool photo by Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL -- Al Franken and Norm Coleman are spending millions in the ongoing U.S. Senate fight.

The campaigns raised more than $3 million and burned through nearly as much in a late-2008 filing period that coincided with the statewide election recount. That came after the two campaigns spent about $40 million before the election.

The recount ended in early January. Soon after, Coleman announced he would challenge Franken's 225-vote lead victory in the Minnesota race. That trial entered its second week Monday.

Even as campaign costs mount, average Minnesotans' interest in the race is waning, and so, too, could small campaign donations, said Paula O'Loughlin, a University of Minnesota Morris political scientist tracking the election.

"I think it will dry up," she said. "I think people have moved on."

Heading into the election lawsuit, Coleman reported more than $2 million in the bank, Franken about $1.4 million. Each candidate has a campaign fund and has a joint fund-raising committee with his political party.

The candidates are financing teams of attorneys who file into the St. Paul courtroom each day of the trial. Franken and Coleman each has enlisted nationally known election attorneys.

"At this point, they're paying for their lawyers," O'Loughlin said.

Those lawyers spent most of Monday questioning Joe Mansky, Ramsey County's election chief and an expert on Minnesota elections. Mansky said that while his county strives for accurate elections, administrative error left some valid ballots uncounted. Coleman claims that happened around the state.

Coleman's team also used testimony of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected to further its argument that counties used different standards to review absentee ballots. As a result, all 11,000 rejected absentee ballots should be reviewed for possible counting in the trial, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said.

Franken's legal team is trying to convince a three-judge panel that while some rejected absentee ballots were wrongly discarded, that number is just a fraction of the 11,000.

A Franken attorney suggested Monday that because two Coleman voters who testified last week improperly filled out absentee ballot documents, they may have committed felonies.

A Minnesota resident going to college in Fargo, N.D., was subject of courtroom testimony again Monday.

Peter DeMuth, a North Dakota State University student and Plymouth, Minn., resident, testified last week that his absentee ballot was rejected because instead of signing a ballot application in pen, he initialed an online version of the document with a computer mouse.

Mansky, the Ramsey County official, said DeMuth could have obtained a paper application at a nearby courthouse in Moorhead instead of relying on an online document.

"Was this ballot properly rejected?" Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton asked.

"Yes," Mansky replied.

DeMuth voted for Coleman. The Republican's campaign argues DeMuth's ballot should be counted.

Neither campaign would discuss fund-raising plans Monday, but Coleman and Franken are targeting wealthy donors far from the courtroom.

Franken raked in campaign donations at a Washington, D.C. fund-raiser during the presidential inauguration festivities last month. Coleman was on Capitol Hill a short time later to talk with fund raisers, and later this month will raise money at a National Republican Senatorial Committee event.

"I think both of them need the money," O'Loughlin said. However, "at this point the burden of proof is on Coleman, so he needs the resources more."