Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


DFL insiders say Franken’s OK … for now

DFL insiders say Al Franken committed a huge blunder by not hiring an independent opposition researcher to see what dirt could be dug up on him before he launched his candidacy.
Photo by Terry Gydesen
DFL insiders say Al Franken committed a huge blunder by not hiring an independent opposition researcher to see what dirt could be dug up on him before he launched his candidacy.

In the wake of yesterday’s stunning announcement by Al Franken that he would pay $70,000 in back taxes to 17 states, DFL insiders I interviewed generally agreed on these propositions:

• Franken is not in any immediate danger of being forced from the race. DFLers are gossiping hard about who might step in if the Franken candidacy implodes, but not conducting an active search or draft movement. Most expect that Franken will be the nominee.

• Party leaders in Minnesota and Washington will watch closely to see whether Franken’s poll numbers, fund-raising or standing among DFL delegates tanks over the next few days or weeks, and reassess if there is serious slippage or more problems.

• By paying all the back taxes and taking personal responsibility (although there was plenty of blaming of his accountant as well) Franken was trying to end the drip-drip-drip of bad news stories relating to his past business and tax problems and get it over with all at once in hope of moving on to more pleasant topics. This was a smart move, but one that should have been made sooner.

• Franken and his campaign staff had committed a colossal blunder by not having long ago hired an independent opposition researcher to see what kind of dirt could be dug up on the candidate before he launched his candidacy. This kind of pre-emptive self-research — so problems can be identified and addressed before the campaign begins — are now standard practice in big-time politics. For the Republicans to know more about Franken’s business skeletons than he apparently knew himself borders on inexcusable.

• It is possible but unlikely that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Franken’s opponent for the DFL endorsement, will get enough benefit from this development to deny Franken the endorsement at the DFL convention in June.

• The word in party circles was that Franken had done a good job in a series of media interviews late Tuesday. Some DFLers accepted Franken’s word that he had not actually underpaid his taxes but merely paid them to the wrong states because of bad advice from his accountant. Others feared that this subtlety would not help with ordinary voters who would assume that anyone paying $70,000 in back taxes had been up to something fishy.

The latest developments will certainly heighten (already has) the long-standing palpable nervousness in local and national Democratic circles about whether Franken is the candidate who can capitalize on what DFLers see as a golden opportunity to pick up the Senate seat now held by Republican Norm Coleman. One source said that a lot of people who have given and raised a lot of money for Franken are not happy. They don’t like surprises.

Over the past year, Franken’s strengths — name recognition, fund-raising prowess, an impressive grass roots operation, a prodigious work ethic — have won over some skeptics. But they have been offset by serious weaknesses: a prickly personality, high negative ratings in polls, and a long paper trail of potty-mouthed comments from his show biz days that make him an opposition researcher’s dream come true. The embarrassing disclosures about his personal business affairs has been added to the list and has DFLers wondering what else they don’t know about Franken.

Will Ciresi jump in?

There were rumors that former candidate Mike Ciresi might re-enter the race, perhaps as a primary challenger. Ciresi’s public statements didn’t rule it out. Other than Ciresi, there was little consistency in the names being mentioned as possible late-starting candidates. 

Even if they decided the DFL could find a stronger candidate, the party does not have a coherent group of leaders who have the ability and/or the willingness to enforce their will against a candidate like Franken, who has, after all, raised his own campaign war-chest, outlasted Ciresi who was believed to be his most serious challenger, and won a commanding lead in delegates heading into the convention.

A decision to drop out for the good of the party, if it came to that, would pretty much have to come from Franken, who has not said or done anything to suggest that he has any such plan or thought.

And anyway, the party has not discovered the candidate who is willing to run and who has a better chance than Franken of defeating Coleman. And that, as one of my sources told me last night, has been the story all along 


Franken campaign’s message about taxes

Here’s the text of a message sent out yesterday by the Franken campaign about the candidate’s tax situation:

Hi everyone –

I want to introduce you to someone. This is communications director Andy Barr and he’s got something to share with you. No doubt, you’ve seen the stories about Al’s tax situation. And if you haven’t, you probably will tomorrow. The short of it is this: While Al and Franni always paid state and federal taxes on every cent their income, their accountant didn’t always pay it to the correct state. For example, when Al gave a speech in Arkansas, a small portion of his income taxes should have been paid to Arkansas. Instead, their accountant incorrectly sent those tax dollars to Al and Franni’s state of residence.

We need you to make sure the truth of this story is heard over the GOP noise. Full disclosure. There are 842 of you on this list. And we need every single one of you to help get this message out.

And now a word from Andy:

Norm Coleman and his flunkies are going to spend the rest of this campaign lying about Al Franken because Al had the decency to admit a mistake and the character to fix it.

And you are the only people who can stop them.

Over the next weeks and months, there are going to be two versions of today’s story.

1.    The Republican (Fake) Version

Al Franken evaded taxes in 17 states and then lied about it. He’s getting rich by cheating on his taxes while the rest of us have to pay our fair share. How can Minnesotans trust someone who doesn’t even pay his taxes?

2.    The Non-Fake Version

Al Franken paid state and federal income tax on every cent he ever earned, right down to the 11-cent residual checks for re-runs of “SNL.” Due to an accounting error, he overpaid his state taxes in some states and underpaid them in others — but he didn’t benefit financially. As soon as he found out about the mistake, he immediately resolved it — even though none of the states where he underpaid ever asked for the money.

And Al showed some serious leadership tonight. His team found out about the error before the GOP did, he corrected it right away — then he offered immediate disclosure. And DFL delegates found out about it before they read it in the paper because this campaign put together a 100 person phone bank in an hour to tell them.

This is how a candidate should behave.

Al Franken has never shied away from taking on the Republican smear machine, and we’re not going to start now. We will fight this and every other battle tooth and nail between now and November.

If you ever hear, read, or see the Fake Version of this story, we need you to help us do what Al does best: tell the truth.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Thanks everyone,


Jess McIntosh
Press Secretary
Al Franken for Senate

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by John E Iacono on 04/30/2008 - 07:09 pm.

    As an old CPA, I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall– when his “accountant” weighs in here.

  2. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 04/30/2008 - 07:09 pm.

    Look, this whole brouhaha about Franken’s taxes is silly. Franken clearly had no intention of defrauding anyone. But it is a trivial problem that is causing damage to a trivial campaign. Franken’s campaign has always been about perceived frontrunner status and fundraising ability. Never about issues. So a superficial crisis has the ability to puncture the misperception of inevitability.

    Sadly, Franken’s candidacy has had legitimacy only because most coverage has been so lacking. By again propping up the name of Ciresi, you again ignore the reality of this race so far. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s message was resonating with far more convention delegates, which is why Ciresi dropped out of the race. Before this Franken tax nonsense, Jack likely had the delegates to stop Franken at the state convention and perhaps gradually pick up enough votes with successive ballots to get the endorsement himself. With this tempest in a teapot, Jack’s strength has probably increased.

    It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Star Tribune and others will finally notice Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer if he gets the endorsement. If they do, he will win, since he is clearly more qualified for the Senate than either Franken or Coleman.

  3. Submitted by Sherry Gunelson on 04/30/2008 - 05:26 pm.

    On taxes, it is hard to get out of California once you have been in it for taxes. I really can not see it as Franken’s responsibility for having his state taxes filed incorrectly. That is obviously his accountant’s error. That’s what I do for a living. I fill out the forms, they sign them and file them. The client has no idea which state they should be filing in – that’s why they hire a professional.

  4. Submitted by eben kowler on 04/30/2008 - 05:55 pm.

    How could you possibly know the delegate counts to assume that Jack can’t win the endorsement? The delegate counts aren’t published and unless you’ve been to every convention there is no way for you to begin to make that kind of assumption. This continued portray of the DFL endorsement as “locked up” for Franken is terrible journalism. For shame MinnPost.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/30/2008 - 12:55 pm.

    Yes, it IS possible that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer could receive the DFL nomination in June, but not likely as long as the media keep pretending the race is only between Franken and Coleman.

    Franken has refused to hold even one debate in St. Paul, leaving most St. Paul area voters uninformed as to what Nelson-Pallmeyer (or Ciresi, for that matter) has to offer.

    Jack has a good number of delegates ready to vote for him in June and it is possible, unless Ciresi decides to return to the race, that all or most of Ciresi’s previously pledged delegates will shift their support to Jack rather than Al. (Who would, as you point out, bring baggage to the Senate that could make it difficult to work with Republican members.)

  6. Submitted by John Olson on 04/30/2008 - 09:41 pm.

    Ron Carey and the Republicans smell blood and they are going to keep pursuing Al the rest of the way. Norm will be able to glide above it all.

    It is more than a “colossal blunder” on the part of the Democrats to not have had Franken fully vetted for anything and everything prior to announcing his candidacy. Given his background, career, soundbites and who-knows-what, he will probably be on the defensive the rest of the way.

    The Republicans learned their lesson in 1990 with Jon Grunseth. It is amazing that the Democrats seem to have overlooked something that basic and important with a candidate that has decades of national visibility.

    In addition to the presumptive presidential field of McCain and Clinton or Obama, I am now also becoming putrified with the presumptive Minnesota race for the U.S. Senate. In an election year where the Democrats should be able to demonstrate the potential to win in a landslide, the prospect of the Democrats snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory is becoming a real possibility. (For a prime example of this phenomenon, please see the 2006 Minnesota Governor’s race.)

    At this point in time, I am thoroughly disgusted with BOTH parties.

  7. Submitted by Paul Rozycki on 04/30/2008 - 10:53 pm.

    I’m confused. I thought this is a democracy. I thought the people decide who is their representative in the Senate. I thought the delegates of the DFL discern who is the best candidate for the Senate and make the endorsement.
    But apparently not, according to you Eric Black. The reality, at least, your idea of reality, is that no matter the strong grass roots campaign of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (he’s been breathing down Franken’s neck for the endorsement- pre-tax scandal), shadowy party establishment figures either force Franken out for his general ineptitude (these country club Democrats can’t be embarrased you know), or get a ‘real’ candidate. By that you mean a rich one with a known name who will go along and get along with the status quo.
    But I don’t believe the people of Minnesota are willing to put up with being squeezed out of our democracy by party big-wigs and the money they they throw around. I believe the time has finally come where the delegates are no longer following orders/strong suggestions about who is ‘electable’ and demands that money raised be our primary criteria for excercising our rights as citizens to elect our best candidate.
    We know that the most electable person is the most well spoken candidate, the one who connects extraordinarily well with people, who has great political courage, who inspires with his life story of serving life. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has these qualities that money and fame are unable to match, and I believe that for these reasons he is the most electable and best candidate in the race.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 04/30/2008 - 10:53 pm.

    I hope that some Democratic officials who know more about the dynamics of these races than I do are taking a serious look at Franken’s position.

    As a regular listener to his radio show, I was willing to accept his explanation when his former partner at Air America was found to have fraudulently used funds intended for the Boys Club to help start Air America.

    Then last month we find that his company missed payments for Worker’s Compensation. Now he owes taxes to other states.

    Just the bare recitation of facts reads like an SNL skit. I think he’s honest, I think he was the victim of some bad luck, but I also think that his campaign is in serious trouble.

    Someone needs to make a brutally honest analysis of how his history of business dealings will get played in the campaign, especially against the backdrop of some of his radio commentary.

  9. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 05/01/2008 - 02:54 am.

    It pains me to say it… but the DFL party is already on the wrong path in its inevitable selection and coronation of Franken as the party’s standard bearer. This choice is fraught with dangers for at least two reasons:

    1- Al Franken is not a political animal; he does not have the killer instinct. He is a good comedian; but he is not an inspiring talker or debater. Coleman will have him for lunch in a debate with his lawyerly smarminess.

    2- Franken has no political background to speak of. Yes, he has written a few books, political satires and such. But those are no substitute to experience of even a community organizer which Al does not have in Minnesota.

    There are many better qualified Minnesota sons and daughters who could fare better than Mr. Franken. Personally, though, I would try to get seasoned and successful politicians back in action. I would particularly love for the DFL to lure Tim Penney back to serve as our senator. That would be so awesome!

  10. Submitted by Welna Welna on 05/01/2008 - 04:00 am.

    It concerns me that “DFL Insiders” are discussing who else might step in or back in if Franken drops out. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is the candidate who can beat Coleman. His positions and his ability to campaign are exactly what Minnesota needs. Coleman’s strong ties to Bush make him very vulnerable.

    Coleman would bury Franken in part because of Franken’s rough and crass language both spoken and in his books. Franken’s been gone from Minnesota for 30 some years and doesn’t reflect the kind of candidate that Minnesota would select for the US Senate. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is exactly the person to win the Senate seat back for the Democrats. Franken knows that the more folks hear and examine Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer the greater Jack’s chances are. That’s why Franken doesn’t want to debate Nelson-Pallmeyer.

  11. Submitted by trust no1 on 05/04/2008 - 09:05 am.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that there is a media bias that favors Franken as the frontrunner for the DFL nomination, and one that often skews and misrepresents JNP as a serious candidate. Pandering to one candidate over another isn’t my idea of fair reporting. It not only undermines the legitimacy of JNP’s campaign but it often stains the true spirit of the election process. I seem to recall the media counting JNP out of the race before he even began, yet he surpassed a certain wealthy trial lawyer. Why? Because he had delegate support and he addressed the issues that matter to Minnesotans. So how about leveling the playing field a little before you crown Franken our next Senator.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/05/2008 - 04:29 pm.

    “His team found out about the error before the GOP did, he corrected it right away — then he offered immediate disclosure.”

    Obviously, this mailing was directed towards a very select group of true believers; but I sincerely hope that Al starts trotting out this bit of mendacity during public appearances.

    Are these people *really* this crazy; or is this an example of a sinking Democrat campaign tossing in the kitchen sink.

    Heck, even Mike Hatch eventually remembered the first rule of holes.

  13. Submitted by James Maus on 05/11/2008 - 12:52 pm.

    I was tempted to write that I am a republican who voted for Bush and Coleman, but now I am voting for Franken (have you seen posts like that from stealth republicans attacking Franken?), but here is my actual opinion. Just keep showing pictures of Coleman with Bush. Show the video of him strutting around like a peacock when he was handpicked by Rove to participate in the “war room” during the Democratic Convention of 2004. He was an elite insider who was picked to help put together the smear campaign against Kerry and Edwards. Remind people how he got elected.

Leave a Reply