Last Friday, Congressman Keith Ellison's communications director Rick Jauert responded to recent data unearthed and analzyed by Smart Politics that Ellison was receiving an unusual amount of itemized individual contributions from out-of-state, both in Q1 2009 (when he had the highest percentage of such contributions among Minnesota's delegation), and ever since he began to first serve in Congress in 2007.
The Ellison camp characterized the report on donations to his campaign as "shameful" according to the Minnesota Independent. Jauert went on to say, "I take offense at the notion that there's a significance that out-of-state contributions were from Muslims."
The significance of Representative Ellison's fundraising highlighted throughout the analysis is that the contributions are from out-of-state, not the religious background of his contributors. Ellison's own 5th Congressional District has a large community of Muslim residents, but, as Smart Politics' report reveals, they and other District and Gopher State residents, are not giving the bulk of financial backing to Ellison's campaigns. As Smart Politics noted in its report:
"Since 2007, Minnesotans have only contributed just over one-quarter of Ellison's itemized individual campaign funds (25.9 percent). In fact, the Congressman has received more money from residents of California and Florida ($247,381) than from residents of his home state ($246,105) during this span."
As such, Ellison's characterization of the Smart Politics reporting as focused on the religious background of his contributors misses the mark and deflects from the focus of the report, which is Congressman Ellison's uncharacteristically high out-of-state contributions vis-à-vis other members of the Minnesota U.S. House delegation. In fact, only one sentence of the 1,000-word, 17-paragraph analysis mentions religious demographics of the states from which Ellison is receiving his contributions.
Ellison's spokesman did not contradict any of the data presented in the report, nor did he provide any explanation for why the Congressman's out-of-state contributions among individual donors was so high - even at a higher rate than U.S. House Committee Chairs and fellow DFLers James Oberstar and Collin Peterson in Q1 2009. Students of political science will recognize how unusual it is for a 2-term Congressman to be raising a higher percentage of individual contributions from out-of-state than powerful (and long-serving) Congressional committee chairs and, in the case of Peterson, to also raise more in such itemized contributions net dollars by a nearly 2:1 margin in Q1 2009.
Ellison's out-of-state contributions therefore stand out, particularly juxtaposed against his fellow Minnesota U.S. Representatives who have similarly low terms of service in D.C., such as Representative Michele Bachmann, also a 2-term member of Congress. Smart Politics' analysis in reference to the Congressman's religion was presented in that descriptive context, explaining what is unique about his biography (the first Muslim elected to Congress) as well as that of Rep. Bachmann (her frequent high-profile national media appearances). One is coinciding with an overwhelmingly high percentage of itemized individual contributions in-state (Bachmann) and the other is coinciding with a very high percentage of contributions from out-of-state (Ellison).
The analysis in no place discussed the religious background of Ellison's actual contributors, but the report did offer a single descriptive account of the demographics of some of the states from which the Congressman is raising such a large percentage of campaign funds. In fact, Congressman Ellison is the one who connects those dots with his rejoinder: "I take offense at the notion that there's a significance that out-of-state contributions were from Muslims." The Minnesota Independent additionally reports that "Jauert didn't dispute that Ellison's religion was a factor in the campaign contributions."
The important question to ask Rep. Ellison is why such a comparatively low percentage of Minnesotans, and particularly people from his 5th District, are contributing to his campaign. Hence, the provocative title of last week's analysis: "Who Does Keith Ellison Represent? (And Why Aren't Minnesotans Funding His Campaigns?)".
Some readers have responded to the Smart Politics analysis with answers to that question and explanations on Ellison's behalf, such as that the Representative's low level of local contributions could be affected by the familiarity of his constituents with his more than comfortable victory margins.
For a comparison in Rep. Ellison's neighboring 4th Congressional District, fellow DFLer Betty McCollum won by 37.1 points in her blowout victory last November, and yet she raised just 23.7 percent of her itemized individual contributions from out-of-state in Q1 2009. McCollum also represents an extremely safe DFL district, with the DFL having won every election there since 1948.
Others have suggested Ellison has to go out-of-state to receive his individual contributions because of the poverty in his district. While Ellison's district has a lower media income ($48,287) than that of McCollum's, it is basically the same as that of fellow DFLer Tim Walz ($49,274), according to the 2007 American Community Survey. But Walz's Q1 2009 in-state itemized individual contribution rate (92.8 percent) was 5 times higher than that of Ellison's (18.7 percent), and nearly 15 times higher in net dollars ($65,100 versus $4,400).
Additionally, the median income of Ellison's 5th CD is higher than that of Collin Peterson's 7th CD ($44,311), which is the lowest in the state. However, Peterson's Q1 2009 in-state itemized individual contribution rate was 30 points higher than Ellison's (46.5 to 16.8 percent), and more than twice as much in net dollars ($9,935 versus $4,400).
Ellison's spokesman went on to tell the Minnesota Independent that the Congressman, "Had one the the highest, if not the highest, margins of victory in his class so he must be doing something right."
With regards to Ellison's margin of victory, Smart Politics in fact highlighted the Congressman's 48.9-point victory margin in 2008 in the closing paragraph of its analysis, and stated his constituents, regardless of the source of his funding, "Are nonetheless quite content with his voting record and leadership on Capitol Hill." Additionally, back in January, Smart Politics featured a post on Ellison's historic margin of victory in the 2008 election, noting the Congressman notched, "The second largest margin of victory of all time in the 5th Congressional District last November, and posted the largest margin of victory for a 1-term incumbent in the history of the Gopher State."
Ellison also told the Minnesota Independent that, "The economy doesn't care what religion you are."
Smart Politics concurs with the Congressman that the economic impact is affecting members of all religious faiths, and has extensively tracked the historic unemployment trends facing the Gopher State during the past several months on its blog.
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