by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board Tuesday, Dec. 17, fined the Minnesota DFL Senate Caucus $100,000 for wrongfully working with 13 of its candidates in the 2012 election.
The $100,000 civil penalty is among the biggest in state history.
The DFL state party and the candidates were not fined.
“We continue to maintain that our candidates and the caucus campaign committee complied with all campaign finance laws. Although we respectfully disagree with the board’s position, we believe it is better to put this matter behind us,” DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said in a statement about the settlement reached with the board.
Senate Democrats admit to no wrongdoing in the settlement.
The Republican Party of Minnesota began filing complaints in October 2012, charging that DFL campaign materials were wrongfully listed as independent expenditures, but the materials were not because the candidates were actively engaged in photo shoots in producing the print ads, thereby breaching the legal wall between candidates and independent expenditures.
Republican leaders heralded the board’s decision.
“Senate Democrats were so intent on winning at any cost and throwing huge money into the 2012 campaign that they played fast and loose in a big way,” said Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey in a statement.
“We will never know how this illegal coordination would have impacted the results in these races and ultimately control of the Legislature. They cheated, they won, but at least they are being held accountable now,” Downey said.
Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, struck a similar tone.
“The question really needs to be asked, ‘Would they have won the majority if they hadn’t cheated?’” Hann said in a statement.
Campaigns named in the investigation include those of Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan; Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina; Sen. Gregory Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley; and Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Spring Lake Park.
The board noted in its findings that some of the candidates suspected the photo shoots were for the purpose of developing independent expenditures but believed inquiring further could destroy the independence of those expenditures.
The board recognized in assessing civil penalties that the candidates believed they could rely on the DFL Senate Caucus’ decision to ask them to participate in the photo shoots.
“While this reliance was misplaced and does not affect the conclusion regarding whether the conduct results in violations of contribution and spending limits for the candidates, it is an appropriate factor to consider in assessing civil penalties in this matter,” the board concluded.
The board previously has issued other big fines.
It investigated independent spending by the Republican Party of Minnesota in 2002, which subsequently led to the reclassification of $500,000 in Republican independent expenditures as approved expenditures. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s gubernatorial campaign was fined $100,000 by the board in the matter, and the reclassified funds were counted against the campaign’s spending limit.
Tim Budig is at email@example.com.