"Tired of the same old golf fundraisers?!" Joe Emmett O'Brien, Vice-Chair of the Carver County GOP, wrote in a fundraising email. "Bid, online auction style, for an exclusive opportunity to be one of just five people on a shotgun sporting clays course walk/shoot" with "your favorite legislator."
But something has changed since the party sent out that fundraising pitch Tuesday afternoon. The party took down the auction, and is distancing itself from the event. City Pages called O'Brien to ask about it and he denied that any online auction was ever going to take place, blaming the original setup on "configuration" issues.[jump]
"It's not an auction itself," he says. "It's an ecommerce site. There are many different ways to purchase tickets to the event. We don't have sophisticated tools to handle that so we're using the ecommerce capabilities of that website."
By appearances, it certainly looks like an auction:
In its fundraising pitch, the party teases that Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers might be there, too.
The estimated value of a shooting session with each legislator? "Priceless."
O'Brien also created a poster for the event advertising an "Online auction to be on individual legislator 'Shooting Teams.'" It makes a clear distinction between "Team Auctions" and "General Ticket Purchases," despite his protests to the contrary.
In fact, the poster says there are only five spots available on each team.
"Get up close and personal with your elected leaders. Bid for spots on the 'Elected Leaders Shooting Team' of your choice. Successful bidders will spend the afternoon on the shooting course with the elected leader you have chosen. An excellent chance to get to know them better and share your insights."
O'Brien insisted to City Pages that the website was simply going to be used as a way to buy a ticket to attend the event, not as an auction tool.
"Here's the problem with the site," he said. "There wasn't a way for me to necessarily configure it."
City Pages asked if he had "configured" the website by putting in the names of the legislators and their pictures in the auction boxes.
"Maybe it be more appropriate for you to talk to someone else," he said.
We pointed out that he is in charge of the event, and he said, "I'm just a volunteer." Which might be true but he isn't powerless: He's listed as the lead organizer and the person to contact on the poster and fundraiser.
He's also the Vice-Chair of the Carver County GOP.
O'Brien says he's still working on the website.
"I'm in the process of updating it," he says. "It was in the middle of development. The site itself has been turned off."
O'Brien isn't sure if the event will happen at all now due to the technical problems with the site. "We're basically running out of time," he says, leading up to the September 1 event. "We have to decide if the event's going on the first."
There's nothing illegal about auctioning off access to U.S. Congressmen and high-ranking state lawmakers to the highest bidder. And, on the auction site, it was made clear that the fundraiser was for Carver County Republicans, not any of the individual politicians, and that there would be no special favors for those who paid up.
But it's pretty shady, and shadier still when the party yanks the auction site as soon as someone notices, and clams up under questioning.
City Pages reached out to legislators who were listed on the auction site, but messages went unreturned.