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Ciresi Announces for Senate
By Martin Kaste
October 13, 1999
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Republican incumbent Rod Grams was the candidate with the most money in the bank for the 2000 U.S. Senate race. That title now goes to Democrat Michael Ciresi, who officially entered the race and brought with him the millions of dollars he earned on Minnesota's landmark tobacco lawsuit last year. That case produced a $6 billion settlement for the state, and $566 million in fees for Ciresi's law firm. Republicans say Ciresi's financial clout is formidable, but not insurmountable. And before he can use his money against Grams, he must win the DFL nomination.

Ciresi is the chairman of the Minneapolis law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, where he fought a string of profitable liability cases.
MICHAEL CIRESI MAY be familiar to Minnesotans as a famous litigator worth millions of dollars, but he began his campaign for the U.S. Senate by portray ing himself as a man of the people.
Ciresi: My father's father was an immigrant. My father was a small businessman with a seventh-grade education. Indeed, one of his first businesses was not far from where we stand today. He sold fruits and vegetables from a horse and buggy on Summit Avenue.
The current generation is considerably better off, financially. Ciresi is the chairman of the Minneapolis law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, where he fought a string of profitable liability cases. The most profitable was last year's tobacco lawsuit, in which the firm earned a total of $560 million dollars for representing both the state and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Ciresi has never disclosed how much of that money he got to take home, but everyone in state politics assumes Ciresi would be able to bankroll a Senate race out of his own pocket, with plenty of money to spare.

But money can be a double-edged sword in politics. DFL Senate contender David Lillehaug issued a statement in which the former U.S. Attorney portrays himself as a grassroots David against Ciresi's well-financed Goliath.

Republicans, too, say they could use Ciresi's money against him.
Sutton: The track record of rich guys running for public office is pretty poor here in Minnesota. Talk to Mark Dayton.
MPR: Rudy Boschwitz.
Sutton: Rudy Boschwitz! Unfortunately. It's true, though. The most money doesn't always win.
Republican Party Executive Director Tony Sutton says there is good reason to be intimidated by Ciresi's money, but good spin can also turn that advantage on its head.
Sutton: He's making millions of dollars, sort of a poster boy for tort reform, and now he's going to use that money to turn around and try to buy the votes of the citizens of Minnesota.
Ciresi confirms he plans to spend his own money on the campaign, but he won't say how much, and he says he thinks it's important to get other people to contribute, because he believes in what he calls a "broad-based" campaign.

Like most politicians these days, Ciresi says he dislikes ideological labels, but he is willing to refer to himself as on the right of DFL Senator Paul Wellstone. Others in politics would call him a liberal Democrat. He says he supports legalized abortion, he says Washington needs to do more to bail out the failing farm economy, and he says politicians should stop running down "the" government and start talking about "our" government.

Still, Ciresi does not expect support from the mostly liberal activists who control the DFL party. Unlike rivals Lillehaug and Stephen Miles, Ciresi says he will run in the DFL primary even if he doesn't get the party endorsement.
Ciresi: The deck is a little stacked against me, in terms of the endorsement. Unless, unless the party reaches out and brings back in all the Democrats that have been left behind. If that happens, we have a totally different ballgame.
Ciresi has not been very active in party politics; in fact, he's not been that prominent outside of his work as a lawyer. But he says his actions in the courtroom should be credentials enough.
Ciresi: There isn't one politician in office in this state - or candidate - who has brought $6 billion to the state of Minnesota at no cost to it. There isn't one politician or candidate who has had as profound an impact - potential impact - on the public health of this state as I have.
Ciresi says he's proud of his work on the tobacco case, and he says he plans to, in his words, "sing the tune of that case" during the campaign. Of course, former Attorney General Skip Humphrey tried a similar strategy in his campaign for governor last year, and he ended up finishing third.

Privately, Republican strategists say they welcome the chance to campaign against a lawyer, especially one whose bread and butter are multi-million-dollar liability cases. Ciresi's advertising man, Bill Hillsman is already thinking about a response to the expected lawyer-bashing.
Hillsman: All I know is that if I was a citizen of the state of Minnesota, and I wanted somebody to go argue our point of view in the United States Senate, I couldn't think of a better guy to argue it than a guy like Mike Ciresi.
Besides retaining Hillsman, Ciresi has yet to hire a campaign staff. He says he won't really be able to concentrate on the campaign until finishes up one last trial for his firm; he says it's a patent case, but he won't say who the client is, or what the case is worth.