In an April episode of ABC's "The View," Bill Maher and Rosie O'Donnell professed their support for Al Franken's 2008 Minnesota Senate candidacy, with O'Donnell saying she was "maxing out" to the comedian-turned-candidate.
O'Donnell kept to her word, contributing $2,300 to his campaign, the maximum donation for the primary, while Maher chipped in $1,000. They were among the more than 50 contributions that Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" star, received from actors, writers, producers and others in the last reporting period, his campaign finance report shows.
The man that Franken has in his cross-hairs, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, used April's episode of "The View" to help with his own fundraising. In a letter to prospective contributors, Coleman wrote: "I need your help to fight back against Hollywood's liberal elite! Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher and Larry David sit atop the Democratic Party's elite clique of big benefactors."
Franken's friends in the entertainment field helped catapult him to a surprising lead in money raised in the second quarter of the year, covering April through June. Franken raised about $1.9 million, compared with $1.66 million for Coleman, R-Minn., and $750,000 for Democratic candidate Mike Ciresi.
Some entertainers did even better than O'Donnell, contributing $4,600 — with $2,300 earmarked for the general election, should Franken get that far. Those included Dan Aykroyd, Robin Williams and Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner.
Among other notable contributors were actor Ed Norton, director Harold Ramis, actress Meg Ryan, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and Karenna Gore Schiff, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore.
That followed a first-quarter performance that included $4,600 contributions from actors Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jason Alexander and Larry David.
Still, the campaign is relying on donations from Minnesota and elsewhere for the long run, said Franken spokesman Andy Barr.
"What we're counting on for long-term success is the 36,000 donors who have given so far," Barr said. "These aren't people who have given us $4,600 at a time; they're people who have given $40 at a time. And we'll be able to go back to them and say, 'You've made the investment, look at the progress we've made. Can you help us keep going?'"
Opponent using a different strategy
Coleman, who is considered among the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbents, relied on a more traditional source of cash: political action committees, raising $367,000 from PACs in the second quarter. More than a dozen PACs have already given him $10,000, the maximum combined contribution for the primary and general election.
Those included industry PACs such as those representing the National Restaurant Association, Northwest Airlines and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, as well as leadership PACs from fellow GOP senators such as Trent Lott of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas and Gordon Smith of Oregon. By contrast, Franken raised just $11,000 in PAC money.
"We're very proud of our 21,000 contributors for the cycle — of which over 75 percent come from Minnesota," said Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan. "We welcome the support of those organizations, and the members of their PACs, that believe in the senator's vision for a strong, prosperous America."
Meanwhile, Ciresi, a wealthy trial lawyer, picked up contributions from dozens of lawyers from his firm, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.
"It is a great compliment that the people that know Mike Ciresi best want to support his candidacy for the U.S. Senate," said Ciresi's spokeswoman, Leslie Sandberg. "They know he can get results."