I want to publicly thank the many individuals who have reached out to me over the past few days concerning the vicious, libelous attacks from the “Our Minnetrista” political committee. Please understand these attacks are merely revenge over the group being caught at corrupting our city elections. They lost their case in court and now must discredit the person that exposed them. Most of you know better than to believe a group that cheated to win, were taken to court and sanctioned for it. I’m sure the attacks will continue as this election year approaches but at least their tactics have been exposed and that’s a good thing for Minnetrista. Thank you all for your kind, encouragement.
Exactly one year ago I wrote a post titled “Who is Our Minnetrista?” Little did I know what would be exposed over the course of the next 12 months. I only knew something was amiss but had no idea of the corruption, deception, and stronghold this group of people holds on our community until I filed a civil suit last November and began the discovery process which culminated in a ruling that held they had “corrupted the political process” in both the 2014 and 2018 elections and their leaders and candidates were fined.
Here is what I know now. The corruption isn’t limited to our mayor and a couple of council members (who all still sit on the council, btw). There are school board members who have been actively supporting this group with financial contributions and helping them recruit public officials to maintain their current power structure and taxing authority. There are also political committees like “YesWestonka” comprised of virtually the same people as “Our Minnetrista” whose goal to pass a $22M school bond referendum was successful primarily because they held the election in May instead of the November general election knowing a low voter turnout would benefit the measure. Now they have another referendum up for a vote in November 2019, not a general election either. Hmm.
I’ve also learned that the DFL is involved in this group with the DFL Senate District Chair being a financial contributor to the rogue “Our Minnetrista” political committee as well as a contributor to the campaign of the spouse of Westonka school board member Heidi Marty in his bid for election to the MN House of Representatives (D-Todd Mikkelson). This is one close-knit, happy family.
Is it any wonder, then, when the Westonka School District was invoiced for the Minnetrista mayor’s campaign mailings (apparently to avoid paying sales tax like her opponent had to) that the Westonka school district said nothing?
This last year has exposed the fact that a small group of people with vested interests in controlling millions of dollars of public funds in our community are doing just that. They consist of DFL leadership, school board members, elected public officials, ex-city employees, and political committees backing their initiatives that somehow always end in tax increases.
WHY THEY HID “OUR MINNETRISTA” – The June judgement handed down to the mayor and council members involved in the “Our Minnetrista” scandal ordered them to file accurate campaign finance reports and pay their fines by August 1. One need look no further to see why they hid the role of the political committee “Our Minnetrista” in their campaigns. They would’ve had to truthfully disclose this:
Keep in mind there were other, legitimate, candidates that spent money of their own in these elections. The mayoral candidate opposing Whalen in 2014 lost by less than 200 votes. These violations affected the outcome of these elections in both 2014 and 2018. The three judge panel called it corruption citing their actions “corrupted the political process” and gave the Our Minnetrista candidates “an unfair advantage.” Our mayor calls it an “administrative error.”
Destruction of evidence during an ongoing civil suit is a criminal offense last I heard. On the very day screen shots from www.ourminnetrista.com were taken showing donations going into an “Our Minnetrista” account (something they had been very careful to obscure by reporting all donations as going directly to their candidates) the entire Our Minnetrista website was deleted. The screenshots were shared with them as part of the discovery process of the civil suit and within hours of that notification the entire website was deleted, all their Facebook content was deleted and no online evidence remained of their activity. Sound like an innocent “error?”
The above is part of the record in the Office of Administrative Hearing’s case #71-0325-35774:
If there was any doubt about the stronghold the political committee “Our Minnetrista” has over our city it was displayed last night at our city council meeting, the first since the campaign finance judgments were handed down against the mayor and two council members. In a well orchestrated turnout the political machine sent speakers to the podium, one by one, each with scripted remarks pledging allegiance to the misunderstood public officials that had been party to the illegal activities of “Our Minnetrista” accepting more than 10 times the legal contribution limits.
Several of the “Our Minnetrista” contributors that wrote checks over statutory limits spoke last night echoing the mayor’s cry that it was all just an “administrative error.” Readers may remember a similar cry of there being “no basis” for any of the complaints when they were filed after the election.
“Our Minnetrista” Treasurer Karen Danielson turned on the waterworks on cue claiming innocence (or was it ignorance, I don’t remember) before the crowd and, again, made unsubstantiated claims of her attempts to get approval for implementing the financial scheme which involved concealing the source of candidate contributions as well as their amounts. In her sworn declaration she actually admitted no one told her the scheme was legal. And the Oscar goes to…
There were several individuals who spoke asking for the violators’ resignations. One noted that a $5,000 fine didn’t indicate an “administrative error” but a very serious breach of campaign finance law. That didn’t sit well with the “Our Minnetrista” crowd and one of them actually suggested that I should be the one to resign. Yes, the person exposing corruption should be the one to resign. You can’t make this stuff up.
To conclude, the mayor, who had previously ruled there would be no council debate (Translation: I would not be allowed to speak) gave herself the opportunity to defend herself and the two others before abruptly ending the Persons To Be Heard session.
- “…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.”
- “Our Minnetrista did not file any campaign financial reports in its own name
disclosing contributions it received or expenditures it made…”
- “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.“
- “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]
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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]
- “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]
- “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.”
- “Complainant established that Respondents Mortenson and Tschumperlin
violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting contributions in excess of $600 from Our
Minnetrista in 2018.”
“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:
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 fraction 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: