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State GOP report reveals lack of accountability in party spending

But party Chair Jeff Johnson says the good news is that “we didn’t find any evidence that people were stealing money.”

Tony Sutton

A report from the Minnesota Republican Party on its troubled finances delivered a frank admission of “misreporting… questionable decision-making… and lack of accountability.”

The good news, according Jeff Johnson, chair of party’s financial oversight committee, is “for me the fact that we didn’t find any evidence that people were stealing money was reassuring.”

While the report released Monday gave more detail of GOP expenses during Tony Sutton’s term as party chair, it also deepened a few mysteries.

Among the revelations were payments of $18,000 to an investigator for research on the legalization of marijuana.  According to the report, the investigator, Tim Goar, also helped with media relations, but “Goar claims to have very few written reports and did not think he had saved any of his work. He says he had… only a verbal agreement with [Ryan] Griffin,” the party’s executive director. The report adds: “We were unable to successfully contact Griffin.”

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Griffin’s name, and his apparent disappearing act, comes up several times. “Some of Ryan Griffin’s expense reports lacked documentation…. We were unable to successfully contact Griffin,” according to the report.

Griffin was paid $14,000 over his regular party salary for “legal services” and “legal advice.” But, the report noted again, “We were unable to locate any documentation detailing the services provided and were unable to successfully contact Griffin for more information regarding this issue.”

The report sheds no new light on Count Them All Properly, Inc., a company established to coordinate the recount effort of the 2010 gubernatorial race.  The state’s campaign finance board is reviewing whether the Republican Party is obligated to pay $719,000 in attorneys’ fees that the company incurred .

The report revealed that spinning off corporate entities was a common practice for the party. The party’s Midwest Leadership Conference in October was run under the auspices of MLC, Inc., which owes more than $26,000, primarily to the DoubleTree Hotel.

Johnson claims the expenses that led to the party’s $1.3 million debt offered “no big surprises because all the items we had known about” before the review. Still, some of the numbers are eye-popping — like $180,000 paid to a communications firm for a re-branding project, with more than $50,000 yet unpaid. 

But the party’s review was designed to deliver “just the facts, not the judgment whether something was wise or not wise,” said Johnson. 

He also defended the party’s practice of paying for services provided by vendors who were also candidates or donors. “Based upon what we learned, we had no significant concerns about what happened,” Johnson said. He added that if such an arrangement should arise in the future, the committee’s recommendations to change the party’s operating structure would address the conflict. The changes include establishing a permanent financial oversight committee and a human resources committee to deal with personnel policies.

While the report was less than comforting in assessing the party’s shortcomings, Johnson voiced some optimism. “The simple fact is that most of these issues can be addressed by changes in our structure,” he said.

The report will not satisfy everyone, Johnson acknowledged. “There’s a small group of folks that want a full forensic audit,” he said, but the party can’t afford that. “There’s also an even smaller group that wants somebody’s head.

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“I’m not going to put the finger on any particular person,” Johnson said. “There is probably enough blame to go around.”