Comedian Franken Keeping Pace in Fundraising for Senate Bid

Al Franken, who hopes to challenge Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman next year, delivered a stern message to friend Tom Hanks at a fundraiser in Los Angeles last month.

Franken told the assembled group that while Coleman takes money from "Big Tobacco" and "Big Oil," he'll be raising money from "Big Comedy" — and that he wouldn't be writing any congressional earmarks for Hanks.

Hanks then walked out of the room and slammed the door, Franken recalled in an interview Wednesday. Returning to applause, the actor pointed to Franken and the two said in unison, "Big Comedy."

For Franken, Big Comedy has translated into big bucks.

The Los Angeles fundraiser, held at the home of "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David and his wife Laurie, brought in about $200,000, and another fundraiser in San Francisco yielded about $90,000, Franken said. That helped him pull in $1.35 million in the first quarter of the year, despite not raising any money until he announced his candidacy Feb. 14. Coleman raised $1.53 million during the quarter.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said in a statement: "Many people respect the leadership the senator provides on issues important to Minnesota like health care, agriculture, rural development and transportation. Unlike the issues Al Franken will be pushing for his liberal friends."

"These are mainly people I've known for years, that I've worked with," said Franken.

Franken is in Washington this week to meet with Democratic members of Congress from Minnesota, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. On Thursday night, he'll be appearing at a dinner of the Progressive States Network.

Franken said he's campaigning in Minnesota six or seven days a week.

"I like Minnesotans — always have," said Franken, who was born in New York City but grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. "They are earnest, decent people who have fun. They seem to get me — they understand what a joke is. That's why I'm not so worried about what the Republicans are trying to do" — a reference to GOP efforts to use some of his off-color remarks against him.

He doesn't have a clear path to the Democratic nomination. On Wednesday, wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi, best known for securing a multibillion-dollar settlement against the tobacco industry on behalf of the Minnesota government, formally announced his campaign.

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" star and writer, said he got to know Hanks by working with him on the show.

Hanks donated the maximum $4,600 to Franken's campaign. So did several other celebrities, including David, Paul Newman and Jason Alexander.