Campaigns gear up, raise money for election contestby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Lawyers for Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken face off in court later this month, beginning the next phase in their long-running battle over who should be Minnesota's next U.S. Senator.
The election contest, as it's called, could drag on for weeks and even months. That's going to cost both sides money, and it could cost Minnesota taxpayers, too.
St. Paul, Minn. — Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says he hasn't had time to calculate exactly how much money the recount has cost Minnesota so far, but his office reimbursed the local governments that conducted the hand recount 3 cents for each ballot.
"That was about $90,000," Ritchie said. "There's probably been another equivalent that amount for all the copying, all the setup, everything else. I mean, this is going to cost somewhere around $200,000 or a little more."
Ritchie estimates that's a tenth of what it would have cost to ship all the ballots to St. Paul to count them, and he says it's a small price to pay for democracy.
"It's part of our mandate and service to the people of Minnesota to run elections," he said.
And it's probably considerably less than the Coleman and Franken campaigns have had to spend. In just the three weeks following Election Day, the campaigns raised about $2 million dollars apiece. They'll have to report updated fund raising totals to the Federal Election Commission at the end of this month.
Neither side has said exactly what the election contest will cost them, but Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said Monday it'll be "lots of money."
"It's going to be expensive. We're obviously keenly aware of that," he said. "It's not taxpayer expense. This is something now where ... It's the parties that bear the brunt of this."
In most cases, Minnesota law says whichever side loses an election contest has to reimburse the government for any expenses related to the contest. So if certain precincts have to be recounted again as part of the process, the losing campaigns would have to pay for it.
Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley says that's usually how it works.
"Unless a mistake was made by the local officials, in which case the local jurisdiction would have to bear that expense," he said.
So if the election contest court finds that the local officials messed up, then they can't stick the campaigns with the bill.
But even if they don't end up covering all the state's costs, the campaigns have plenty of their own. They still have campaign managers, communications directors, and lawyers galore.
Franken attorney Mark Elias says he's not sure what the final price tag will be.
"I don't know. I think what it costs the Franken campaign is secondary," Elias said. "I think the fact that this will obviously take up the time and the energy of a number of state officials, the state court system and the like is something the people of Minnesota need to consider."
Both campaigns are still raising money. Federal campaign finance law allows contributors to give up to $2,300 directly to a candidate's campaign. The state DFL and the state Republican Parties are also helping finance the recount battle. They can each accept checks up to $10,000.
When the state of Washington went through a lengthy recount and election contest four years ago, the two sides spent an estimated $10 million combined.
Following his press conference Tuesday, Coleman said he's confident he can raise all the money he needs.
"I don't think that's going to be an issue on either side. I think folks will figure out a way to see this through," Coleman said.
Republican strategist Tom Horner agreed that partisans from around the country will happily send checks to influence the balance of power in Washington. Horner, who was at Coleman's press conference, says he's gotten his share of solicitations, too.
"I think everybody who's been a supporter of Senator Coleman has gotten multiple solicitations, with more to come," he said.
And with an election contest expected to last weeks, or months, the campaigns will have plenty of time to raise and spend money.
- Morning Edition, 01/07/2009, 7:25 a.m.