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Campaign Finance Board set to rule on GOP’s recount legal fees

Common Cause claims GOP violated law in the way it raised money to cover legal fees.

Officials with the Minnesota Republican Party will spend their Fourth of July combing the findings of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which on July 3 will rule on who is responsible for more than $700,000 in legal fees from the 2010 recount of the governor’s race.

Common Cause of Minnesota received a letter from the board stating its intent to deliver findings on a December complaint at its July 3 board meeting. Common Cause claims that the Republican Party violated state law by creating a corporation, not a political fund, to raise money to cover legal fees associated with the recount and, in so doing, circumvented the laws requiring disclosure of the sources of contributions.

The board will rule on “allegations related to the false certification of reports and violations, if any, that result from the relationship of the RPM and the corporation Count Them All Properly, Inc.,” board Executive Director Gary Goldsmith wrote to Mike Dean of Common Cause. “It is anticipated that this portion of the investigation will also include findings regarding the legal obligation of the attorneys’ fees related to the 2010 gubernatorial recount.”

The Finance Board’s decision will affect the past, present and future of the Republican Party.  It will either pardon or condemn the decision by former party Chair Tony Sutton to create Count Them All Properly, Inc., in 2011.  It will answer the question of liability for those substantial legal fees. And it will shape how the party moves forward to cover more than a million dollars in debt not related to the recount.

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The party’s overall financial management under Sutton is also addressed in a Common Cause complaint.  On that, Goldsmith writes: “The Board voted to separate its work on this complaint into two separate investigations. The second investigation, which may be ongoing for some time, will include allegations of inaccurate reporting…”

Dean said: “I think this is taking such a long time because of the complexity of the issues. This is shows me the scope of the problems going on, despite the fact that the Republican Party has done its own investigation.”

That report acknowledged “misreporting…questionable decision-making…and lack of accountability” on the part of the Republican Party but found no evidence of criminal activity.  It side-stepped acknowledgement of the recount debt because of the Common Cause complaint.

State Sen. Dave Thompson

State Sen. Dave Thompson

The internal investigation also cleared the party of any wrong doing in fees paid to Republican state Sen. Dave Thompson, then a candidate, for communications consulting.

The Thompson fees have not cleared scrutiny, however, from the Finance Board, which in a separate letter to Common Cause, stated it will investigate the issue.  In its complaint on Thompson, Common Cause asserts that the Republican Party failed to file those expenses on its finance reports. 

In addition, the complaint alleges that Thompson, as a candidate working with other candidates, violated the state law that prohibits campaigns from coordinating with outside groups that support a campaign through independent expenditures. Thompson did not return a call for comment.

Dean of Common Cause blames part of the Republican Party’s predicament on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, familiarly called Citizens United, striking down state laws restricting corporate and union campaign spending.  “Citizens United has created a wild west in campaign finance law,” he said.      

To deal with its cost of the recount, the DFL Party created a non-profit corporation that is registered with the Federal Elections Commission and requires more detailed disclosure of contributions. Dean said the Republican Party could have taken that route as well, and he expressed a degree of sympathy. “They received some bad legal advice,” he said.  Bad advice or not, in three weeks, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will determine if the state Republican Party is liable for $700,000 in billable hours.