Conservative senator gives $200,000-plus to Mike Lee

Politics • Democratic opponent says the money represents special interests.
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Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., one of the nation's most conservative senators, has funneled at least $200,000 into the Senate campaign of Utah Republican Mike Lee.

That, by itself, is far more than the $139,000 total from all sources that Lee's Democratic opponent, Sam Granato, managed to raise, as of his last disclosure report.

So Granato's campaign said Wednesday that Lee is taking too much "from one such extreme source," and it shows that Lee would be too beholden "to Washington special interests and power players."

Lee's campaign, however, said that the money comes with no strings attached, and DeMint is merely helping elect people who would help him reduce "the size, cost and reach of the federal government." — a website that delves into campaign finances — posted a story Tuesday that looked at how DeMint's political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has been amassing money to help candidates associated with the tea party movement, often against GOP incumbents.

It found that DeMint had funneled more than $213,000 so far into Lee's campaign. Lee helped unseat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, at the state GOP convention in May by arguing that he is not conservative enough.

DeMint money to Lee included $10,000 in direct contributions from the PAC; $92,514 in "independent expenditures," not coordinated with the Lee campaign, for such things as Web ads and a mailer; and $110,528 individual donations that DeMint's PAC "bundled" and delivered to Lee.

At the end of the last reporting period, Lee's campaign reported receiving $837,000 in total contributions from individuals and PACs. DeMint's PAC gave or bundled $120,528 of those donations, or about $1 of every $7 in donations received.

Matt Hoskins, spokesman for DeMint's PAC, said it has funneled another $80,000 or so to Lee since the last reporting period.

Marla Kennedy, Granato's campaign manager, said having so much money "from one such extreme source" is a problem.

"Jim DeMint isn't from Utah. He does not represent Utah," she said. "It shows he [Lee] would be beholden to the tea party."

She added, "Mike Lee's funding is a clear reflection to what kind of campaign he's been running, what kind of candidate he is, and what kind of representative he would be for Utah: He's clearly tied to Washington special interests and power players."

Hoskins told The Tribune that the money comes with no strings attached. "Senator DeMint has been very clear on many occasions that none of candidates he's endorsed owe him anything. Their debt is to their country, so that's not an issue."

Boyd Matheson, spokesman for the Lee campaign, said money bundled and delivered by DeMint's PAC "is not 'one source' but represents thousands of individuals across the country who have decided to make their voice heard this year. Mike is honored and humbled that so many have stepped forward to support our cause."

He added, "This isn't about starting a tea party in the Senate. It is about reducing the size, cost and reach of the federal government. It is about restoring the constitutional debate to the Senate. It is about ending earmark abuse." —

Senate race

Republican nominee Mike Lee has a 6-to-1 fundraising advantage over Democratic candidate Sam Granato. A sizeable chunk of Lee's campaign money has come through a political action committee controlled by Sen. Jim DeMint, a champion of the tea party movement.