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How political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux managed to raise six times the money that Rep. Ilhan Omar did

Melton-Meaux has been able to raise funds from people who can make large contributions — including a range of local DFL notables who would normally be expected to support the incumbent.

Antone Melton-Meaux outraised Rep. Ilhan Omar by more than two to one in itemized contributions.
Antone Melton-Meaux outraised Rep. Ilhan Omar by more than two to one in itemized contributions.
Antone for Congress

Antone Melton-Meaux, Ilhan Omar’s Fifth District primary challenger, raised nearly seven times what the incumbent did in the second quarter of 2020. Melton-Meaux brought in $3.2 million, compared to the $471,000 Omar raised in the same time period.

This time last year, few had heard of Melton-Meaux, a lawyer with a background in employment practice and mediation. Now, his flyers are all over CD5 doorsteps and his ads are all over TV.

Melton-Meaux didn’t begin his campaign with a head start in fundraising. In previous reporting periods, he lagged significantly behind Omar in terms of money raised. He raised a fraction of what she did in 2019 and significantly less in the first quarter of 2020.

CD5 fundraising by period
Source: Federal Elections Commission

So how did a political newcomer suddenly manage to outraise an incumbent with a national profile in a primary challenge?

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Donor differences

Closer inspection of Omar and Melton-Meaux’s filings show differences in where their money comes from.

Over the course of the campaign, Omar has outraised Melton-Meaux in unitemized individual donations — these are contributions from people who gave less than $200 and whose identifying information isn’t required to be reported to the FEC — by more than ten to one. Three quarters of the money Omar raised in the second quarter came from these types of small donations.

Melton-Meaux, by contrast, outraised Omar by more than two to one in itemized contributions — money from donors who gave over $200 and whose names and addresses are required to be reported by the campaign to the FEC. Of the $3.2 million he raised in the second quarter of 2020, $3 million of it came in donations of $200 or more.

CD5 fundraising by category, 2019 and 2020
Source: Federal Elections Commission

Since they’re not itemized, details on small donations are scarce, but from data reported on larger-dollar donors, we know that Omar has donors in every U.S. state and has raised a lot of money in California, New York and other populous places. Her donors include actors Susan Sarandon, Ben Affleck and Bradley Whitford, and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir. In the second quarter, about 86 percent of Omar’s itemized contributions came from outside of Minnesota. For Melton-Meaux, it was 94 percent.

Despite being the DFL-endorsed candidate in the race, Omar’s donor list does not include a lot of the usual suspects who typically give big to DFL candidates in statewide and Congressional races.

Rep. Ilhan Omar
REUTERS/Erin Scott
Rep. Ilhan Omar
For Melton-Meaux, small-dollar donors make up a fraction of overall campaign fundraising. Instead, the bulk — and what has propelled him to outraise Omar — is money from donors of larger sums.

Melton-Meaux’s donor list includes a lot of local names you might recognize from the public policy sphere, including 2019 Minneapolis mayoral candidate Tom Hoch, former University of Minnesota presidents Bob Bruininks and Eric Kaler, former U.S. attorney in Minnesota Andrew Luger, Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle.

It also includes prominent local business people like Fairview Health Services CEO James Hereford, Ecolab CEO Douglas Baker, Kelly Doran, of Doran Companies, Vance Opperman, and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the co-CEO of Carlson Holdings.

Also among Melton-Meaux’s Minnesota supporter base is Second District Rep. Angie Craig’s wife, Cheryl Greene, according to a list of ActBlue donations compiled by nonprofit news outlet ProPublica. Craig hasn’t endorsed anyone in the CD5 race, but she formerly worked with Melton-Meaux at St. Jude Medical. Her former deputy finance director Aidan Johnson now works on Melton-Meaux’s campaign. Greene gave $199 to Melton-Meaux’s campaign in March.

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Melton-Meaux has support from major national donors, too, including John Gray, of private equity firm Blackstone, and Seth Klarman, a hedge fund billionaire who has given millions to Republicans.

PACs

Melton-Meaux has also raised about 20 percent of his large-dollar donations with the help of pro-Israel Political Action Committees that bundled donations — meaning they collected them on behalf of the candidate.

Melton-Meaux raised $382,000 in donations bundled by the Pro-Israel America PAC, a nonpartisan political committee that supports both Republican and Democrat pro-Israel candidates. He also raised nearly $106,000 in bundled donations through NORPAC, a political action committee that supports conservative policies in Israel.

Besides the bundled donations, Melton-Meaux’s campaign has directly raised $34,000 from PACs. They include: Citizens Organized, Friends of Israel, Grand Canyon State Caucus, Heartland PAC, Maryland Association for Concerned Citizens, Mid-Manhattan PAC, Pro-Israel America PAC and Sun PAC, all listed as pro-Israel by OpenSecrets.

Omar has raised about $54,000 from PACs, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Machinists Non-Partisan Political League of the International Association of Machinists, the National Association of Realtors PAC, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association PAC and the Sierra Club Political Committee.

Correction: This piece has been updated to correct the total contributions to Ilhan Omar in 2019.