DFL hit with hefty fine for cheating; MNGOP wonders if it cost them Senate majority

Hann, the MNGOP's Senate leader, said the ruling shows that "the people of Minnesota cannot trust Democrats to be truthful and lawful in the conduct of their political campaigns."
Hann, the MNGOP's Senate leader, said the ruling shows that "the people of Minnesota cannot trust Democrats to be truthful and lawful in the conduct of their political campaigns."

Yesterday, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board hit the Senate DFL caucus with a $100,000 fine for illegally coordinating activity between DFL candidates who were running for Senate seats last year.

SEE ALSO: MNGOP accuses DFL of "using racist tactics" by darkening photo of Republican candidate

The crux of the controversy is a photo shoot involving 13 candidates, 11 of whom ended up winning their elections, that produced images ultimately used by the Senate DFL caucus in campaign fliers.

As an Associated Press report explains it, "The Senate DFL and state Democratic Party operations were accused of sharing photos of 13 candidates for printed ads, which amounted to improper cooperation for units supposed to be operating independently... Republicans argued that photos taken in professional shoots amounted to 'active participation' by the candidates and therefore couldn't be used in mailings that were construed as independent ads."

None of the candidates involved or the state Democratic Party were fined, but in its ruling, the Public Disclosure Board concluded, "As the investigation developed, it became clear that the communications that were reported as independent expenditures involved active candidate participation in the process of arranging for and conducting the photo shoots that provided images for the communications."

SEE ALSO: DFL uses unflattering photo of Rep. Mary Franson in new ad

Republicans filed their complaint about the coordination in October 2012, a month before the election that resulted in the MNGOP losing its Senate majority to the DFL. And as you'd imagine, as news circulated yesterday of the $100,000 fine -- among the three largest fines levied by the Public Disclosure Board over the past 11 years -- MNGOP officials wondered aloud whether last year's election might have turned out differently had the DFL played by the rules.

"With today's historic penalty from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board it is clear the DFL has an ethics problem," Senator Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, wrote on his Facebook page. "The question really needs to be asked, 'Would they have won the majority if they hadn't cheated?'"

MNGOP Chairman Keith Downey lost his Senate seat to Melisa Franzen, one of the DFL candidates involved in the controversial photo shoot. In a statement included in the AP's report, Downey also wondered how much the illegal coordination cost the MNGOP.

"We will never know how this illegal coordination would have impacted the results in these races and ultimately control of the Legislature," Downey said. "They cheated, they won, but at least they are being held accountable now."

But in a statement of his own, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Duluth, maintained that despite the fine, the DFL did nothing wrong.

"I'm pleased to see this matter resolved. We continue to maintain that our candidates and the caucus campaign committee complied with all campaign finance laws," Bakk said (via MinnPost). "Although we respectfully disagree with the Board's position, we believe it is better to put this matter behind us."

Another DFLer involved in the photo shoot, Jim Carlson, D-Eagan, told the Star Tribune that all the candidates involved were "under the same misunderstanding."

Carlson acknowledged sitting for the photo shoot, but told the Strib he didn't realize the photos were going to be used by the Senate DFL caucus for campaign materials until a friend of his received one of the fateful fliers in the mail.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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