“Our Minnetrista’s failure to file campaign financial reports…corrupted the political process, and created an unfair advantage for the candidates it supported.”

Below are statements quoted directly from the OAH final judgment issued last Friday, June 21 in the “Minnetristagate” trial [Emphasis added in BOLD]:

  1. “…Our Minnetrista is a committee under Minn. Stat. § 211A.01, subd. 4.
    Our Minnetrista violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.02 in 2018 by failing to file campaign financial reports despite spending more than $750 in support of candidates.”
  2. “Our Minnetrista did not file any campaign financial reports in its own name
    disclosing contributions it received or expenditures it made…”
  3. “Because Our Minnetrista failed to file financial reports disclosing
    contributions it received and expenditures it made, and due to the manner in which Danielson [Our Minnetrista Treasurer] reported the contributions and expenditures on the candidate’s reports, Our Minnetrista’s role in the candidates’ campaigns was concealed from the public.
  4. “The campaign financial reports for Mortenson, Thoele, and Whalen did not
    list any contributions from Our Minnetrista” [Neither did the 2018 candidate financial reports for Mortenson and Tschumperlin]
  5. Mortenson, Thoele and Whalen were also aware that the expenditures
    listed on their 2014 financial reports as having been made by them, were actually made by Our Minnetrista.”
  6. “Mortenson and Tschumperlin were also aware that they had not made the expenditures listed on their 2018 financial reports, but that these payments were actually made by Our Minnetrista.”
  7. “Danielson completed the campaign financial reports for Mortenson and
    Tschumperlin. Danielson marked the reports as “candidate” reports as opposed to
    “campaign committee” reports. Once completed, she sent the reports to the candidates to review and approve.”
  8. “Our Minnetrista received at least one donation of $750, six donations of
    $1,000, and one donation of $1,800 in 2014. Danielson allocated these contributions
    in equal amounts to Mortenson, Thoele, and Whalen.” [Statutory contribution limit is $600]
  9. Two donations to Our Minnetrista were drawn on corporate bank accounts,
    but these contributions were reported on the candidates’ campaign financial reports as having been made by individuals. These contributions were divided equally between the three candidates as well.” [Minnesota Statutes prohibit corporate contributions to campaigns for public office]
  10. “Complainant established that Respondents Mortenson, Thoele, and
    Whalen violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting contributions in excess of $600 from Our Minnetrista in 2014.”
  11. “Complainant established that Respondents Mortenson and Tschumperlin
    violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting contributions in excess of $600 from Our
    Minnetrista in 2018.”
  12. “Our Minnetrista’s failure to file campaign financial reports…corrupted the political process, and created an unfair advantage for the candidates it supported.”

Trial Testimony Exerpt:

Whalen testimony on checks

Minnetristagate judgment affirms violations by Mayor, Councilmembers and “Our Minnetrista” committee

Minnetrista certainly has had its share of controversy over the years but “Minnetristagate” surpasses them all. The political committee “Our Minnetrista” and their candidates violated multiple campaign finance laws in order to influence the 2014 and 2018 Minnetrista city council elections. The financial scheme concocted by the group bypassing Minnesota’s Fair Campaign Practices Act was concealed from the public and according to the final order by the Office of Administrative Hearing’s (OAH) three judge panel:

“…corrupted the political process, and created an unfair advantage for the candidates it supported…”

Our Minnetrista” and its candidates accepted multiple contributions far exceeding statutory limits and then divided them up among their candidates, only reporting a Minnetristagatefraction of the actual check amounts on each candidate’s disclosure reports. They accepted illegal corporate contributions and then reported them as coming from individuals. They had the Westonka School District invoiced for their campaign mailings*, and in the courtroom “I don’t know” was the most frequently heard phrase from Respondents that included Minnetrista Mayor Lisa Whalen, Councilmembers Pam Mortenson and John Tschumperlin, past Councilmember Patricia Thoele, and Our Minnetrista leaders David Kolb and Karen Danielson.

Erick Kaardal, Attorney for Complainant, Shannon Bruce, remarked in his opening statement “How candidates operate in the campaign environment with respect to law reflects on how our public officials act when they are in office. And so, this is a very important case regarding how our campaigns for public officials are going to be operated consistent with the law or in violation of the law.”

Respondents defended their scheme to the very end claiming to have researched its financial structure with the city clerk, Secretary of State’s office and the Campaign Finance Board. Interestingly they didn’t have a single witness from those offices willing to testify on their behalf, provided no evidence such contacts ever occurred and couldn’t remember most of the names of the persons with whom they had allegedly spoken.

A highlight from the two day trial came from Mayor Lisa Whalen who, after being shown two checks, each for $1,000 from the same individual (contribution limit is $600) displaying clear, easily recognizable signatures on each check, feigned she didn’t know who made the contribution because she couldn’t make out the signature. Here are the exhibits she was shown:

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