By Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Two government watchdog groups are calling on state and federal regulators to fine the Minnesota Republican Party for violating campaign finance laws.
Republican Party officials had hoped that their financial problems would be put to rest once they disclosed their troubled finances last week. That disclosure prompted more questioning from a government watchdog group that already won legal victories against the party.
Last week, Republican Party officials announced that the state party was $2 million in debt. Party officials also acknowledged they failed to disclose $415 thousand in past debts. The complaints come just a few months after the Republican Party admitted to a similar violation in 2007.
“We seem to be seeing a repeat of the same kind of problems with the Republican Party’s finances,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington D.C.
That organization settled a complaint with the Republican Party of Minnesota in August. The complaint centered on the party’s failure to report debt $100,000 in 2006. Sloan said she will file another complaint with the FEC asking the elections commission to fine the state party again. She said the Republican Party clearly violated a pledge they made just a few months ago to not engage in the same wrongdoing.
“It’s a black and white issue,” Sloan said. “The FEC will have no question but that the Minnesota GOP has violated the conciliation agreement. The only question is what exactly will the FEC do about it and how seriously will they take it.”
Republicans also have problems at the state level. Mike Dean with Common Cause Minnesota says he filed a complaint to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board on Thursday asking them to look into several alleged campaign finance violations. Dean said the Republican Party of Minnesota conspired to circumvent the state’s disclosure laws. He said the party didn’t disclose that they were helping manage a fund aimed to finance the 2010 recount.
Republicans created a separate fund called Count Them All Properly to pay for the recount. But Dean said the fund was created a month after the recount had begun. Dean suggested the *state* Campaign Finance Board conduct a full audit of the party’s financial records.
“It’s clear that the Republican Party of Minnesota has been engaged in Enron accounting standards in how it’s managed its books, because what they were trying to do is keep things off the book to hide it from the public and that’s clearly illegal in this case,” Dean said.
Dean’s complaint also alleges the party filed false statements and that former Party Chair Tony Sutton failed to get approval from the party treasurer to pay for some bills. Sutton abruptly resigned last month after party officials raised concerns about the party’s books. The party’s Secretary/Treasurer David Sturrock wrote in his resignation letter last week that party leaders didn’t consult with him about the party’s financial obligations.
Newly-elected Party Chair Pat Shortridge was unavailable to comment about the complaints. But RNC Committeeman Jeff Johnson said at last week’s State Central Committee meeting that the party could face additional fines.
“We don’t know what those fines might be if there are fines. We are working with the FEC. We have engaged in an attorney who knows the FEC well and he has been in the process of contacting them and asking them how they want us to handle it,” Shortridge said. “The hope is that because we’re coming to them it might be a little less unfavorable than it otherwise would have been.”