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:
Continue reading “Minnetristagate judgment affirms violations by Mayor, Councilmembers and “Our Minnetrista” committee”
I’ve received a lot of inquiries about the status of the Minnetrista campaign finance violations alleged against Minnetrista’s mayor, 2 sitting and one past councilmember and leaders of the “Our Minnetrista” organization. A three judge panel heard testimony by all the Respondents and Complainant during an evidentiary hearing that lasted two days (May 7 & 8, 2019) at the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings in Saint Paul. Closing statements are due today, Friday, June 7, 2019, and a judgement will follow within two weeks.
The evidentiary hearing concerning the alleged campaign finance violations of the “Our Minnetrista” organization and the candidates they supported in the 2014 and 2018 elections concluded Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Testimony began the morning of Tuesday, May 7 and was heard by three Administrative Law Judges with the Office of Administrative Hearings in St. Paul, MN. Final arguments to be submitted in writing by both the Complainant and Respondents are due June 7, 2019 and a final judgement will be issued approximately 14 days following.
Audio recording of testimony is available to order from the Office of Administrative Hearings (Case# 71-0325-35774) https://mn.gov/oah/media/media-contacts.jsp
Coined “Minnetristagate” by the Center of the American Experiment writer, Tom Steward, the Minnetrista campaign finance violations matter, involving the current Mayor, two current and one past council member and leaders of the Our Minnetrista organization, has been scheduled for an evidentiary hearing May 7. The Administrative Law Judge issued an order denying Respondents motion for a summary disposition on all but one minor allegation having to do with providing literature disclaimers.
The complaint, filed with the MN Office of Administrative Hearings, deals with allegations of campaign finance violations against the Respondents occurring during both the 2014 and 2018 Minnetrista city elections. An excerpt regarding the 2018 elections from the Judge’s order on page 8:
“Our Minnetrista engaged in all of these activities without ever being identified as a source of the funds on the candidates’ campaign reports. Though Respondents maintain that Our Minnetrista acted as the campaign committee for the candidates, Mortenson and Tschumperlin’s financial reports were filed as candidate reports, rather than campaign committee reports, further obscuring Our Minnetrista’s role in the candidates’ campaigns. Additionally, the funds expended by Our Minnetrista greatly exceeded the $600 contribution limit.”
Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Media contact: https://mn.gov/oah/media/media-contacts.jsp
MINNETRISTA CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS UPDATE: No judgement as of yet but Respondents in the case, which include Minnetrista Mayor Lisa Whalen, two present council members (Mortenson/Tschumperlin), one past council member (Thoele) and leaders of the “Our Minnetrista” organization, have admitted that contributions recorded as coming from individuals actually came from “Our Minnetrista” and were deposited into “Our Minnetrista” accounts, not accounts belonging to the candidates themselves as their disclosure reports showed. Subpoenaed bank records also showed many of the contributions to “Our Minnetrista” far exceeded the $600 statutory contribution limit. The scheme involved taking contributions that exceeded the limit and dividing them up among the candidates and recording them as multiple smaller contributions.
The scheme managed to go undetected for years until a banking regulation required that checking accounts opened under an assumed name had to be registered with the Secretary of State’s office. The discovery of the registration of “Our Minnetrista” as an assumed name led, among other findings, to the eventual filing of the complaint.
Both Complainant and Respondents have requested a summary disposition in the case. The Office of Administrative Hearings is reviewing the case but has not yet ruled.
Media contacts: https://mn.gov/oah/media/media-contacts.jsp (OAH case# 71-0325-35774)
Do you think the Westonka School District knows about this?
For more information on the campaign finance violations filed against Our Minnetrista, the current Mayor, current and former council members see previous blog post.
Minnetrista incumbents have raised over $8K to hang onto their city council seats. Pam Mortenson and John Tschumperlin raised over $4,000 each and have spent all but a few hundred dollars of it to hold onto their seats on November 6. Here are the latest campaign finance reports for Pam Mortenson, John Tschumperlin and challenger Elroy Balgaard. Previous reports for the candidates are posted on the city’s website.
When I ran for city council 2 years ago, I only spent a few hundred dollars on some signs and literature that I hand delivered myself. So why are things so ramped up this election? There is much at stake and lots of money to be made (or not) based on who wins. But more importantly the status quo could be threatened by an outsider that doesn’t rubber stamp the recommendations of city staff and the mayor.
In reviewing the campaign finance reports I was expecting “Our Minnetrista” to be listed as the incumbents’ political committee because their literature states that it was “Prepared and paid for by Our Minnetrista, PO Box 193, Mound, MN 55364. But there is no political committee named “Our Minnetrista” that has filed a campaign finance report this year, despite the fact their website is collecting donations for both incumbent candidates and they are paying for campaign literature. “Our Minnetrista” certainly appears to meet the definition of a “political committee” as defined by state statute and, as such, would be required to file campaign finance reports. Someone may want to look into that.