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City Pages story costs Minneapolis City Council president $200 fine

Kudos to City Pages, whose November exposé resulted in a $200 campaign-finance fine for Minneapolis City Council president Barb Johnson. Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, writing for a three-judge panel, announced the fine Tuesday; his ruling is here.

As readers may remember, Politics in Minnesota publisher Sarah Janecek testified on Johnson’s behalf as a paid witness, supporting campaign reimbursements for Johnson’s hair-styling and dry-cleaning expenses. Strib reporter Steve Brandt said Janecek argued “on the importance of looking good in campaigns, especially for women, whom she said are judged more critically on such things.”

The judges didn’t entirely reject that, but ruled that “not all of the $1,449.54 disbursed for hair-styling and dry-cleaning was reasonably related to the conduct of [Johnson’s] campaign,” adding that “the personal benefit conferred upon Ms. Johnson was so disproportionate as to convert this disbursement to personal use.”

Similarly, the judges agreed with complainant Warren Kaari that $123.85 for a AAA membership was a personal benefit that was not campaign-reimbursable.

The judges rebuffed several of Karri’s claims, ruling that he did not establish Johnson’s Internet, telephone, cable TV, booster club and food and beverage services were violations. Among those payments was $500 to Johnson’s son-in-law, Jeff Piper, for $25-an-hour bartending services.

By the way, I don’t see anything asking Johnson to pay her campaign back, so I think she still comes out ahead on this financially. The judges did note at the end of their opinion that “the impact of the violation on voters was small,” resulting in Johnson’s “modest sanction.”

Update: Brandt notes the ruling means Johnson must declare the sanctioned expenses as taxable income, or reimburse her campaign.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by David DeCoux on 03/02/2010 - 03:02 pm.

    So what is the lesson?

    Spend freely and if you’re caught it won’t be that bad? Because the last time I checked $200 is a pretty good deal for $1,449.54 worth of services.

  2. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/03/2010 - 10:15 am.

    What happened to Steve Berg’s column? That was my other fav here on MinnPost. Not a new one in nearly 3 months.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/03/2010 - 03:15 pm.

    Never met Warren Kaari or Ms. Johnson, but someone who is “campaigning constantly” for a position on the City Council has a highly inflated sense of their personal importance to the metro area and Ward 4. It’s not the presidency of the United States, it’s a position on the Minneapolis City Council.

    Warren Kaari is a bit over-the-top, but I also think Ms. Johnson is pushing the envelope about as far as it can be pushed while still avoiding jail time. That kind of envelope-pushing is not what I want to see from my City Council representative, whether it costs her $200, $20,000, or nothing. She’s an employee, after all, of the residents of Ward 4, not the other way around.

  4. Submitted by James Blum on 03/03/2010 - 04:02 pm.

    To cop a phrase from Wallace Sayre, city council politics are the most vicious and bitter form of politics precisely because the stakes are so low. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Johnson is abusing her constituency for so little gain — cable TV and some visits to the hair stylist? You can’t cover that yourself?

    I feel sorry for the folks who live in Ward 4. The problem for them — and for all of us — is that serving in local politics is such a lousy job that often the only people who stand for elections are those who have no other prospects.

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