Minnesota candidates collect money from outside the stateby Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Just because you live in California, doesn't mean you can't help out one of Minnesota's candidates for Congress.
According to the most recent round of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, contributors living as far away as Alaska are pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into Minnesota's congressional races.
Take U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for instance, a Republican running for re-election in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. She reports raising about $1.8 million during April, May and June of this year, with $655,721 coming from individuals who gave more than $200. Only donations exceeding $200 have to be itemized.
But only $118,574, or about 18 percent, of Bachmann's haul came from Minnesota donors. The vast majority of her cash came from contributors from across the country, including Texas, California and Illinois, three states where donors were especially generous.
Bachmann is an unusual example. She has a history of spreading her net far to fill her election coffers, and her unsuccessful bid for the White House earlier this year only expanded her national name recognition.
But gathering money from out-of-state donors isn't a phenomenon limited to Bachmann's campaign. More and more, candidates are getting money from all over the nation, said Raymond J. La Raja, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
"It's easier for people to find out about races and send money across state boundaries, especially ideologically committed voters," he said. "Now they see the party in Congress as representing their views, not just their particular representative."
People who identify as a liberal or a conservative now make up more than half of voters, La Raja explained, and these are the types of donors who will give to a candidate they've never heard of if an organization or interest group they are a member of asks them to.
"Because of the Internet, the cost of reaching these types of donors is much less, and it's much easier," La Raja said. "People get a message on their e-mail, and they're like 'we need to support these people to take back Congress.' It's an impulse buy, and they do it right then and there."
ActBlue, which helps Democratic candidates raise cash, is one such online entity that's making it easier for voters to give money with a click of a button. Candidates can either direct donors to the site or donors can visit ActBlue independently and invest in any candidate they want.
The average donation is about $100, said ActBlue communications director Adrian Arroyo. The site allows people to give widely, but to do so transparently.
"The people who are elected to Congress represent their districts, but they also represent their country as a whole," Arroyo said. "Everyone has a stake in the future of their country and they shouldn't be stigmatized for acting on that stake. But disclosure matters."
Tarryl Clark, who is in a primary battle to take on 8th Congressional District Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack this fall, is among Minnesota candidate using ActBlue.
Clark built a national name for herself running against Bachmann two years ago in Minnesota's 6th District. For her campaign this year she raised a total of $102,338 in the second quarter from individuals giving more than $200, with roughly $43,000 coming from ActBlue donors as far away as New Mexico, Oregon and New York.
In fact, only $34,846, or about 34 percent of Clark's itemized individual donations, came from Minnesota donors. Clark has been fighting criticism from her primary opponents Jeff Anderson and Rick Nolan that she's an 8th District outsider. Though both Anderson and Nolan raised far less than Clark this quarter, most of their individual donations came from Minnesotans.
Like Clark, Cravaack has battled criticism that he's an outsider after news that his family moved to New Hampshire. Though 83 percent of Cravaack's individual donations came from Minnesotans, he took in more than $139,000 from business and conservative political action committees, and more than $28,000 from his fellow members of Congress.
Democrat Mike Obermueller, who wants to unseat Republican 2nd Congressional District Rep. John Kline, is also using ActBlue. While Obermueller is still getting most of his individual donations from Minnesotans, he also got a $75,000 boost from political action committees and other members of Congress this quarter, including $2,000 from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Obermueller is expecting an even bigger financial lift from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The fundraising arm of the House Democrats views Obermueller's election as one of the most important in the country, and is expected to not only invest resources in the race, but to bring some recognition to an otherwise unknown candidate.
The extra cash may help Obermueller take on Kline, who is chairman of the powerful Education and Workforce Committee, and who has a vast fundraising network of his own: roughly half of the $164,525 Kline collected from individuals this quarter came from Minnesotans. Another $233,500 came from political action committees representing an array of interests.
- All Things Considered, 07/16/2012, 5:16 p.m.