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Shame and scandal: The election cycle heats up

State Auditor Rebecca Otto’s spending habits, Tom Emmer’s head, and a Michele Bachmann donor — all possible scandals; also: a good time for theater and charity golf.

One of the pleasures of the election season is watching scandal get crafted and tossed up, in the hopes that the appearance of impropriety will be enough to sway an election; sometimes, it actually uncovers real impropriety, which is always fun to watch. So we at the Glean would like to introduce a new feature we call SCANDALWATCH, just to keep tabs on who is tossing clods of dirt at whom. We had the rather lazily named Felongate last week, which seemed designed to undermine Mark Ritchie, suggesting that he had somehow let a bunch of criminals vote for Al Franken. This week, it’s State Auditor Rebecca Otto in the crosshairs, as the Associated Press reports.

The charges, put simply, are that Otto overspent on business trips, with GOP Chairman Tony Sutton showing receipts for $250 hotel rooms and a $44 lobster dinner. He didn’t cry out, “Who audits the auditor?” in the manner of the Roman poet Juvenal, and we feel he should have, but, then, we are encumbered by a classical education and always feel a scandal benefits from references to ancient history.

MinnPost’s Doug Grow almost gets the image right in the first sentence of his story on the brewing scandal, which includes Otto’s response. According to Otto, they got their nuumbers wrong, overstating it by about 67 percent, and then, like a T.A. in a freshman math class, she returned their work to them marked up in red, to show they had done it wrong.

Of course, it’s not just Democrats that get to enjoy accusations of financial misbehavior. To hear tell, GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer is pretty friendly with big business. After all, there is an ad supporting him now that was created by a corporate-funded group that highlights his “commitment to Minnesota businesses,” as Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio puts it. No scandal there, of course: Big business have their own interests, and, if a candidate is responsive to those interests, they’re going to back him.

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They’re also going to ensmallen his head. As David Brauer points out, the group, called MN Forward, has posted an image of Emmer that has made his head more slender. This may have merely been incompetence on the part of the designer — after all, who would deliberately do something that would imply their candidate has an embarrassingly large head? But, in case it turns into a real scandal, we at the Glean are going to name it right now: BigGiantHeadgate.

It’s not a scandal, but, as WCCO’s Pat Kessler explains, this sort of corporate sponsorship for a candidate is a first in Minnesota. This past year, the Supreme Court pretty much gave corporations carte blanche to donate as much as they like to candidates they support, and this is the first time we’re seeing it play out in Minnesota. Emmer has yet to run any ads of his own; in the meanwhile, the companies behind this ad have raised $460,000 to support Emmer. As Kessler points out, almost all of that comes from just four companies: Target Corp., Hubbard Broadcasting, Polaris and Davisco. As MPR’s Tom Scheck points out, that means that Target, the company created by Dayton’s department store, will be actively supporting the candidate running against Mark Dayton, scion to the department store’s founders. If we may quote Juvenal again, in times like these it is difficult not to write satire.

This has generated a lot of Twitter chatter, or what we at the Glean call chitter, which, unlike Sarah Palin’s marvelous portmanteau neologism “refudiate,” is a real word. Paul Schmelzer of Minnesota Independent rounds up some examples of these chitters, including Rep. Al Juhnke’s concern that it will alienate voters. Esme Murphy of WCCO asks the same question, and tweets the response: “Overwhelming response from Democrats on WCCO-AM – saying they will not shop at Target anymore because of its support for Mn Forward.”

While we’re discussing campaign money, let’s briefly point out an AP piece on a PAC created by Tim Pawlenty to bolster his political presence in Iowa. He managed to raise $32K for the PAC last month, but, as the story dryly notes, none of that money came from Iowa.

Here’s a scandal that possibly might prove to be very exciting: The United States Navy Veterans Association is currently under investigation for fraud; as Minnesota Independent’s Andy Birkey sums up the charges, the group’s founder “may have funneled donations intended for veterans to Republican candidates around the country.” Among these candidates: Rep Michele Bachmann. Now, as Jason Hoppin of the Pioneer Press explains, the founder has disappeared and Bachmann has frozen the funds donated to her. According to Bachmann’s campaign manager, “”Congresswoman Bachmann believes people are innocent until proven guilty. However, she wants to ensure her campaign is above reproach and maintains the highest of ethical standards.”

In the arts: The Guthrie has done something quite remarkable in these dire economic times. As Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press reports, it ended its season with a bit of a surplus. Additionally, artistic director Joe Dowling has extended his contract for another five years, detailed by MPR’s Euan Kerr. Dowling says this will be his final term at the Guthrie.

In sports: WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro asks why are there so many charity golf tournaments? The answer is, apparently, because it’s fun and charities can actually make money doing it, which is not the answer we were expecting. Of course, the answer we were expecting linked golf to Cthulhu cultists, so we may have been way off base.