State Sen. Petersen faces questions over campaign funds

A Republican state senator who is scheduled to resign from office next week is facing increased scrutiny from the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board about his use of campaign funds.

Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, told MPR News Friday that he can no longer speak about the board’s interaction with Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover – a sign the board is looking deeper into Petersen’s record.

On Sept. 29, the board asked Petersen to provide more information about a 2014 campaign finance report that lists $6,000 he  transferred to himself from his campaign committee. Petersen listed the purpose of the disbursement as “expenses of serving in public office.”

Using campaign funds for public office expenses doesn’t violate the law, but campaign finance officials require that any spending greater than $200 be itemized. The board asked Petersen to file an amended report itemizing the expenses along with a copy of Petersen’s campaign committee bank statements from Dec. 31, 2014.

Goldsmith said last week that Petersen asked for more time to file an amended report. But Goldsmith is now saying the situation has changed.

“The posture of the matter has changed to a posture that is confidential,” Goldsmith said. “Under our statute, confidentiality is provided for any form of investigation or audit and that includes a complaint or a board-initiated investigation or a staff review, which is an informal investigation.”

Goldsmith said the issue will remain confidential until the Campaign Finance Board decides what action it will take.

Petersen announced in September that he’s resigning from the Legislature on Oct. 31 because he felt disconnected from his work. But the Campaign Finance Board also fined him $4,000 for failing to file a 2014 campaign finance report. Petersen’s amended report shows that he paid the fine.

Petersen did not return a phone call.

Goldsmith said that Petersen’s departure from the Legislature will not resolve the matter, since the actions took place when his campaign committee’s account was active.

“I can’t tell you what is happening, but whatever is happening will happen to its conclusion,” Goldsmith said.

Gov. Mark Dayton has scheduled a special election for Feb. 9, 2016 to fill the vacancy caused by Petersen’s resignation. A special primary, if necessary, will be held on Jan. 12, 2016.