Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk opened Friday’s press briefing with a joke about the TV reality show “The Bachelor.”
But Bakk’s lighthearted tone didn’t last long.
“I guess the Senate’s been in the news this week again,” he said, launching into a retelling of ongoing legal developments his party has against the Senate Republican Caucus.
State DFL party officials announced Tuesday that they would file a complaint against at least 12 Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, who distributed literature printed in the state Capitol at their precinct caucuses.
Democrats say the partisan literature — which also included a link to a site where supporters could donate to the Senate Republican Caucus — is a violation of state campaign laws. GOP Caucus Communications Director Steve Sviggum has since apologized for the including the political link.
“I am very, very concerned about the revelations about printing campaign material at state expense here in the Capitol,” Bakk said on Friday.
Now members of both parties are waiting for the Office of Administrative Hearings to make a determination on the matter. Bakk also has repeatedly called for Senjem to convene the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to discuss it. He sent a letter to that effect Thursday night.
Republicans at first defended the nearly 5,000 fliers printed for the Feb. 7 caucuses as a “legislative update,” before the donation link came to light.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got far more important things to do during this session right now than worry about sheets of paper,” Senjem said on Monday. “If we need to have a grand discussion about all of this — affecting both caucuses — let’s have that. We can have that in the Rules Committee.”
But on Friday, Senjem said he’d prefer to have a personal conversation with Bakk and other leaders rather than drag the issue into a committee hearing. Both lawmakers have been meeting privately about other areas of contention between Senate Democrats and Republicans.
In this case, Senjem said, Republicans just made a mistake.
“There’s no question the website was on there,” he said. “It was inadvertent, not intended. But it was on there, and that’s the way it is. We can’t take that back.”
Republicans have said they’ll reimburse the state for printing the fliers, which cost about $47. Senjem said it’s likely other costs, including labor, will be tacked on.
But Bakk wants the reimbursement to reflect the full cost of printing campaign literature at a commercial printer — for members of his caucus, it was about $150 each, he said — so that the state isn’t “subsidizing the production of [Republican] campaign material.”
Bakk also said he doesn’t care that Republicans say printing the literature at the Capitol was an unintentional mistake.
“No, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “An employee of the Senate shouldn’t take the fall for this. I mean, individual senators are responsible for their own campaign literature.”