If embattled Illinois Sen. Roland Burris hopes to hold onto his seat in the 2010 election, he's off to a rocky start. According to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission, Burris raised just $845 from January to March for a potential campaign. That's a staggeringly low amount by Washington standards, where the average expenditures in a U.S. Senate race in 2008 was more than $8 million. By comparison, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who filled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vacated seat, raised $2.3 million over the same period toward her 2010 race.
What's going on with Burris? "Fundraising was just not on his radar," Delmarie Cobb, Burris's political adviser, tells NEWSWEEK. Indeed, Burris remains under a legal cloud because of his ties to ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges, including allegations that he tried to sell the Senate seat once held by President Obama. Burris, who was appointed to the seat by Blagojevich late last year and had to fight his way through the front door on Capitol Hill, has denied any wrongdoing but is under investigation by both Illinois officials and the Senate ethics committee. On his FEC filing, Burris reported more than $111,000 in debt—money owed largely to strategists he hired to help him win the Senate appointment. According to Cobb, Burris's legal bills top $400,000, and under Senate rules he is not allowed to use campaign funds to pay them. He has asked the Senate for permission to organize a legal defense fund, but the request has yet to be approved.
Burris told reporters last week that he'll decide whether to run for a full Senate term "in the very near future." But top Democrats have made no secret of their efforts to find other potential candidates for the ticket. On April 19, Burris held his first fundraiser in Chicago, the beginning of what Cobb says will be a "very aggressive" money push. But that doesn't mean Burris is running. "He's trying to pay the bills he has now," Cobb says.