Judges dismiss claims against former state GOP officials

A panel of administrative law judges has dismissed claims that former Minnesota Republican Party officials violated the law regarding a political group set up to help former 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer win a recount against Gov. Mark Dayton.

Common Cause Minnesota claimed that former party chair Tony Sutton and former finance director Ron Huettl knew the group Count Them All Properly violated state law. Common Cause also claimed that Count Them All Properly authorized Sutton to act as the group’s agent, but the panel disagreed.

“This is the dark side of politics that frustrates people so much,” said party chair Keith Downey. “False charges about a volunteer’s honest administrative mistake tied up this panel and wasted taxpayer money for over one year.”

Still, civil penalties were issued.

Count Them All Properly will have to pay $600. That’s because it was organized as a corporation but made an indirect contribution of $27,000 to the state party by paying legal fees.

Dan Puhl, chief of Cardinals FEC Compliance, a firm that helps candidates and parties account for their campaign expense, will have to pay $600 for incorporating and serving as an officer of Count Them All Properly.

This appears to be the final chapter in an ongoing investigation into the recount fund and the GOP’s finances, which suffered a serious setback in late 2011 when Sutton stepped down and it was subsequently revealed that the party was $2 million in debt.

Last year, the state campaign finance board was less forgiving.

The board found that GOP officials, including Sutton, violated campaign finance law by creating the recount fund. As a result, the board fined Sutton $3,000, the party $26,000 and Count Them All Properly $3,100.