The office of Rep. Keith Ellison says a Thursday report by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute missed the mark. The institute’s blog, Smart Politics, examined contributors to Ellison’s campaign, noting that a number of those were out of state and implying many were Muslim.
Ellison’s office said the characterization of his contributions was “shameful” and shouldn’t be seen as an indicator of support in the district.
The article, researched and written by Eric Ostermeier, suggested that Ellison’s out-of-state contributions came from Muslims and asked, “Who does Keith Ellison represent?”
“Ellison’s Page 1 story in becoming the first Muslim elected to Congress has coincided with a surge in campaign contributions from out-of-state, particularly in states with some of the largest numbers of Muslim-American residents (e.g. California, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan),” wrote Ostermeier. ”
“Our campaign staff and volunteers reflect the community Keith represents. I don’t feel that was reflected [in the report],” said Ellison’s communications director Rick Jauert.
Jauert didn’t dispute that Ellison’s religion was a factor in the campaign contributions and asked, “Why does it matter?”
“I take offense at the notion that there’s a significance that out-of-state contributions were from Muslims. We wouldn’t do the same analysis of evangelical Christian contributions or other religions,” he said. “Why should we let religion get injected into this? This is 2009.”
Jauert said Ellison works on issues that impact everyone in the district. “The economy doesn’t care what religion you are,” he said.
Ostermeier defended his report, saying he made no explicit connections between Ellison’s religion and his funding base.
“The analysis in no place discusses the religious background of Ellison’s actual contributors,” he told the Independent. “Congressman Ellison is the one who connects those dots with his rejoinder. The analysis offers a descriptive account of the demographics of some of the states from which the Congressman is raising such a large percentage of campaign funds.”
The article raises the question of whether it’s important to constituents where a legislator receives financial support. A recent report found that 97 percent of House members raised more than half of their campaign war chests from outside their districts. That report includes political action committee money, which the Smart Politics report did not.
Smart Politics put an emphasis on the first quarter of 2009, when most of Ellison’s contributions came from a fundraiser in Michigan, the state he grew up in. Around 45 people have contributed so far this year, several of whom are members of Ellison’s family in Michigan. Ostermeier’s conclusions are based on $26,000 in quarterly contributions, far less than the $300,000 Rep. Michele Bachmann pulled in.
Despite that, as Smart Politics notes, Ellison has received a higher percentage of individual campaign contributions from out-of-state since his election in 2006 than other members of Minnesota’s delegation.
The recent emphasis on campaign contributions notwithstanding, the people of the Ellison’s district sent him back to Washington with the highest margin of victory in a contested congressional election in state history. As Ostermeier noted in January, “[I]n 2008 Ellison registered the single largest contested victory for a 1-term U.S. House incumbent in the history of the Gopher State – dating back over 150 years.”
Jauert agreed. “He had one the the highest, if not the highest, margins of victory in his class so he must be doing something right.”
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