Dirty Tricks

Minnesota's Fair Campaign Practices Act was designed to ensure fair elections. Critics say it's unconstitutional.

As the MCLU's Samuelson sees it, though, Ciresi already has adequate remedies at his disposal if he believes the Grams campaign has maligned him. "If the e-mails are wrong, then Ciresi could sue for slander or libel," Samuelson says. "But the problem with this investigation is that it makes speech criminal."

Samuelson says that the MCLU's letter urging Anoka County Attorney Robert Johnson to drop the Gunhus investigation has gone unanswered, and he has heard nothing from the Grams campaign. Neither Grams campaign spokesman Kurt Zellars, nor Gunhus's attorney Doug Kelley returned City Pages' repeated calls for comment. (In a statement to the Associated Press last week, however, Kelley said that "when the dust finally settles, my client will not have been found to violate any laws.") Meanwhile, Assistant Anoka County Attorney Bryan Lindberg says he can't disclose what specific evidence was found in the raid at Gunhus's home. Lindberg also points out that his office had little choice in pursuing Ciresi's complaint because of another requirement of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. That provision states that county attorneys who fail to properly investigate complaints of misconduct can themselves be convicted of a misdemeanor and forced from office. "We're investigating because the statute requires us to," Lindberg explains. He then adds that it would be putting the "cart before the horse" to address constitutional questions prior to a complete investigation.

In typically high-minded adherence to principle, MCLU staff attorney Teresa Nelson disagrees. "When you're an officer of the court, your first obligation is to uphold the Constitution," she opines. "Political speech should receive the highest level of First Amendment protection possible, not the lowest."

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