By Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Two government watchdog groups are calling on state and federal regulators to fine the Minnesota Republican Party for violating campaign finance laws.
Republican Party officials had hoped that their financial problems would be put to rest once they disclosed their troubled finances last week. That disclosure prompted more questioning from a government watchdog group that already won legal victories against the party.
Last week, Republican Party officials announced that the state party was $2 million in debt. Party officials also acknowledged they failed to disclose $415 thousand in past debts. The complaints come just a few months after the Republican Party admitted to a similar violation in 2007.
"We seem to be seeing a repeat of the same kind of problems with the Republican Party's finances," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington D.C.
That organization settled a complaint with the Republican Party of Minnesota in August. The complaint centered on the party's failure to report debt $100,000 in 2006. Sloan said she will file another complaint with the FEC asking the elections commission to fine the state party again. She said the Republican Party clearly violated a pledge they made just a few months ago to not engage in the same wrongdoing.
"It's a black and white issue," Sloan said. "The FEC will have no question but that the Minnesota GOP has violated the conciliation agreement. The only question is what exactly will the FEC do about it and how seriously will they take it."
Republicans also have problems at the state level. Mike Dean with Common Cause Minnesota says he filed a complaint to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board on Thursday asking them to look into several alleged campaign finance violations. Dean said the Republican Party of Minnesota conspired to circumvent the state's disclosure laws. He said the party didn't disclose that they were helping manage a fund aimed to finance the 2010 recount.
Republicans created a separate fund called Count Them All Properly to pay for the recount. But Dean said the fund was created a month after the recount had begun. Dean suggested the *state* Campaign Finance Board conduct a full audit of the party's financial records.
"It's clear that the Republican Party of Minnesota has been engaged in Enron accounting standards in how it's managed its books, because what they were trying to do is keep things off the book to hide it from the public and that's clearly illegal in this case," Dean said.
Dean's complaint also alleges the party filed false statements and that former Party Chair Tony Sutton failed to get approval from the party treasurer to pay for some bills. Sutton abruptly resigned last month after party officials raised concerns about the party's books. The party's Secretary/Treasurer David Sturrock wrote in his resignation letter last week that party leaders didn't consult with him about the party's financial obligations.
Newly-elected Party Chair Pat Shortridge was unavailable to comment about the complaints. But RNC Committeeman Jeff Johnson said at last week's State Central Committee meeting that the party could face additional fines.
"We don't know what those fines might be if there are fines. We are working with the FEC. We have engaged in an attorney who knows the FEC well and he has been in the process of contacting them and asking them how they want us to handle it," Shortridge said. "The hope is that because we're coming to them it might be a little less unfavorable than it otherwise would have been."
Posted at 7:00 AM on January 5, 2012
by Catharine Richert
Filed under: Daily Digest
Welcome to the Daily Digest, where we are tuckered out after a week-long marathon in Iowa.
We'll start with fall-out from Rep. Michele Bachmann's departure from the Republican presidential race.
There's no word on an endorsement from Bachmann or a decision on whether she'll run in the 6th again.
MPR looks at what's next for Bachmann.
Bachmann wouldn't have much trouble winning her seat again, Politico reports.
Voters in the 6th have mixed feelings about Bachmann.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry will stay in the race after all.
Sen. John McCain endorsed Mitt Romney in Iowa.
Politico reports that conservatives held an emergency meeting Wednesday. "Movement conservatives are concerned that a vote split between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum among base voters could enable Mitt Romney to grab the GOP nomination."
The Washington Post reports that Romney will have trouble wooing evangelical voters.
The caucus votes underscore an ideological divide among Republicans, the New York Times reports.
Watch for Rick Santorum's record to be picked apart by his rivals.
Bloomingdale's at the MOA will close.
The DFL has hired a handful of staffers in the lead-up to the 2012 election.
Two watchdog groups say that the Republican Party of Minnesota should face fines.
Daniel Fanning, who was looking to run against Rep. Chip Cravaack in the 8th, has bowed out.
Barack Obama named a consumer protection agency chief. Republicans are not pleased.
"It is now time to finalize the proposals of Arden Hills/Ramsey County and the City of Minneapolis, so that the Legislature can compare them, decide between them and act to make one of them a reality," Dayton wrote.
Dayton asked local officials to include as much detailed information as possible, including the proposed means to financing a local share of the project.
Dayton discussed the deadline during an afternoon news conference. He predicted that the comparison of proposals would advance the stadium process.
"I think the facts will speak for themselves in large part," Dayton said. "Some people have already made up there mind, they want this site or they want that site. But I think for general purposes among the Legislature and probably among the general public is what's the off? What the proposal? How good a deal is it? And I think one of them will show probably to be a better option than the other or the others, and that will facilitate everyone's decision."
Dayton said he expects the proposals to also include details about the Vikings' proposed share of the stadium financing. He said he was working in collaboration with the two key stadium bill architects, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.
By Tim Pugmire
St. Paul, Minn. — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's decision to end her presidential campaign means yet another prominent Minnesota Republican could be moving off the political stage.
Unless Bachmann decides to run for a fourth term or seek a statewide office, the Republican Party of Minnesota faces the prospect of having few recognizable political personalities in an important election year.
Bachmann has yet to announce her plans for the future. In announcing the end of her campaign, she said it was time to stand aside in the presidential contest.
But she made it clear that she wouldn't disappear all together or end her fight for key conservative issues. Bachmann also suggested that the next move was not entirely hers to make.
"I look forward to the next chapter in God's plan," she said. "He has one for each of us you know."
One obvious option for Bachmann is to run for re-election. She still has time to decide as Republicans in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District don't meet until mid-April to endorse a candidate. David FitzSimmons, the district's GOP chairman, called Bachmann a strong, national voice for the party and said he will soon urge her to run again.
"I fully intend that she'll get back to her congressional campaign, and I fully support her in that," FitzSimmons said. "I think she has a broad base of support amongst Republicans in the 6th District."
But Bachmann could also be the latest in a series of Republicans to leave the political limelight. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who abandoned his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, has largely been silent in recent months.
The state GOP also has seen its image damaged from within. In December, Party Chairman Tony Sutton resigned, leaving behind a financial mess. A recent scandal forced state Sen. Amy Koch to resign as majority leader following her admission of an "inappropriate relationship" with a male staffer. Meanwhile, former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, once a heavyweight, has largely disappeared from public view.
So far, no prominent Republican has emerged as a candidate in this year's U.S. Senate race to challenge Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
Nevertheless, FitzSimmons is convinced the party has plenty of political stars. Among then, he said, are newly elected Chairman Pat Shortridge, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, House Majority Leader Matt Dean and the four GOP members of Congress.
"You know, Michele Bachmann obviously, and John Kline, Erik Paulsen, Chip Cravaack are a great team in Congress," FitzSimmons said. "You also have our state leadership. So, with Sen. [Dave] Senjem and Kurt Zellers and Matt Dean, I think you have a great legislative team."
But none of those lawmakers represents the whole state, and many Minnesotans might be hard pressed to recognize them.
Still, local races are a key part of the strategy this year. All 201 legislative seats are up for grabs in November, and Republicans in the Legislature want to hold on to the House and Senate majorities that they won in 2010.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester, who replaced Koch last week, said he thinks legislative candidates will be the faces voters see when they think of Republicans. Senjem conceded that he too is now a face of the party.
"You know, I've never thought of that. But yeah, probably in a way the speaker and myself do represent the face of the party going into the election," Senjem said. "And certainly we're going to bring Pat Shortridge along, the chair of the GOP. But, I think collectively we'll work well together. I've worked with Pat before, and we'll work well together."
Senjem said he's working hard to move the party and his caucus past recent, high-profile missteps.
But some political observers see a Republican vacuum that could linger through the election. Larry Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the state GOP could be a faint whisper during this year's campaign.
"I think there's probably going to be more pressure on the party, not only to rebuild financially, but to pick up its game in terms of recruiting top caliber candidates," Jacobs said. "It went from an embarrassment of riches three or four years ago, with Tim Pawlenty and a number of other bright young faces in the Republican Party, to a point now where the bench is a little bit empty."
Jacobs said Minnesota Republicans had one of the nation's most ambitious and successful state parties just a few years ago. He said party leaders are now under pressure to regroup and recover from what he called their recent losing streak.
Republicans in the Minnesota Senate have filled a key position in advance of the 2012 session, which begins Jan. 24.
The Senate GOP caucus announced today that interim chief of staff Kevin Matzek will take over the job on a full time basis. Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, praised Matzek in a news release.
"Kevin is a proven leader and has earned the respect and trust of the members and staff who work with him every day," Senjem said. "He is an outstanding individual with extensive legislative and political experience. We are excited to announce his official status as Chief of Staff, and we look forward to his continued contributions to the Senate Republican Caucus and the State of Minnesota."
Matzek previously served as legislative director for the Senate GOP caucus. He replaces Cullen Sheehan, who resigned last fall to work as a lobbyist.
Posted at 4:11 PM on January 5, 2012
by Tim Pugmire
Filed under: Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton will wait another month to fight a judge's temporary restraining order that delayed his plan for a unionization vote among state-subsidized child care workers.
A hearing was originally scheduled for January 17 to decide whether Ramsey County Judge Dale Lindman's order should be converted into a temporary injunction. Now, a summary judgement hearing is scheduled for February 22.
During an unrelated news conference today, Dayton said that the plaintiffs in the case requested the delay. He said both he and AFSCME, one of the labor unions trying to organize providers, agreed with the request.
The Childcare Freedom Coalition, a group opposing the unionization effort, issued a news release describing the summary judgement hearing as a way to streamline the legal process.
"We won a restraining order and the next step was a temporary injunction, then a permanent injunction," said coalition spokesman Jeff Davis. "By granting our request for summary judgment, the judge is cutting through all of that. The case has already been argued and it's time to put this to bed. This move will save us as well as Minnesota taxpayers needless added time and expense."
Gov. Mark Dayton announced today the date for the release of his proposed bonding bill and the tentative date for his state of the state speech.
During a news conference, Dayton said he plans to unveil his bonding proposal on Jan. 17, which is a deadline required by statute. Dayton said his proposed list of public works projects is almost complete, and it would total $775 million in borrowing.
"There are just a lot of good projects," Dayton said. "More good projects than there are available resources, but that's not uncommon. I think it's a very strong set of proposals. It will provide several thousand jobs for people around Minnesota and makes some really necessary and important in investments in infrastructure around the state."
Dayton wants to deliver his second state of the state address on Feb. 15, in the House chamber. He's proposing to break from tradition and give the speech at 7:00 p.m., rather than midday. Dayton said the schedule for the speech is still tentative until House leaders agree.
By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials from Ramsey County have responded to Gov. Mark Dayton's deadline for stadium proposals.
The governor sent letters to Minneapolis and Ramsey County Thursday. Both are bidding to host the Minnesota Vikings with a replacement for the Metrodome.
Ramsey county board chairman Rafael Ortega says the county already has a complete package to offer. County officials struck a deal with the team in May to build on the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition plant in Arden Hills.
"We've been at this for a year. We've been vetted by everybody. We have a purchase agreement with the federal government. We have site control," Ortega said. "Our focus has been those 500 acres of polluted land — a great opportunity to finally do something with them. We create jobs and we put 170 acres back on the property tax rolls."
State officials rejected a sales tax proposal to help pay for the project. County officials have offered a 3 percent bar and restaurant tax instead.
Dayton asked local officials to include as much detailed information as possible, including the proposed means to financing a local share of the project. The proposals should include details about the Vikings' proposed share of the stadium financing. Dayton is collaborating with the two key stadium bill architects, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.
Dayton expects that the comparison of proposals will advance the stadium process.