By Andy Mannix and Mike Mullen
In 2008, St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention. Republican strategist Jeff Larson was the CEO and treasurer of the host committee, which raised $65 million prior to the four-day event (Read this week's feature, RNC Piggy Bank). After the convention left town and its debts were paid, the host committee still had a surplus of more than $7 million.
Though the bulk would go to charity, a number of individuals and companies continued to receive payments from the surplus years after the convention. Several campaign finance experts who analyzed the expenditure reports for City Pages say the pattern of spending so long after the convention is abnormal, and deserves an explanation.[jump]
For this we went to Larson, the man in charge. Larson declined to be interviewed over the phone, but agreed to answer questions via e-mail. Larson did not respond to questions about payments made to specific individuals after the convention. Here's an abbreviated version of what he would tell us:
City Pages: Can you start by explaining who selected you to be CEO of the 2008 Republican National Convention Host Committee? Why were you interested in taking this job?
Jeff Larson: I believed the Twin Cities needed a shot in the arm. It had been a long time since the Minneapolis St Paul had hosted anything nearly as large as the National Convention. You would have to go back to the Super Bowl in 1991 since we were on the national stage...
...Since it was the Republican Convention that decided to come here, and since the Host Committee needed someone who knew the community and knew the workings of the RNC, they asked me to take this position. I did it to help ensure Minneapolis Saint Paul put on a world-class Convention that put us on the map with other convention cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, New Orleans, Denver and Los Angeles. We did exactly that thanks to our Board, our team, and the community.
CP: It's been more than two years now since the convention, and the host committee still exists. Why has the committee not closed yet?
JL: The short answer is the Federal Elections Commission had not allowed us to do so
CP: You told National Journal reporter Ed Pound in 2008 that your position as CEO of the committee was unpaid. Why? JL: I was brought on as the Chief Executive Officer of the Host Committee on July 1, 2007. According to the written Consulting Agreement, I could be reimbursed for expenses but draw no consulting fee or payment. I was eligible for a discretionary bonus at the conclusion of the convention based on the Board's view of how well I achieved certain goals and if there was any money left over.
On July 21, 2009, the Board of Directors held an Executive Session to discuss my performance as Chief Executive Officer of the Host Committee. At that time, I had served as the CEO for over 2 years. The Board voted to pay me $400,000 for this work.
CP: Why has the committee continued to rent an office from FLS in 2009 and 2010?
JL: As we prepared for the FEC audit, the internal audit that was done by Deloitte, the one-year anniversary celebration, the Convention Impact Report, and the other quarterly reports and 990's that needed to be filed, the work was done by people working out of the FLS office using office, equipment, etc..
In addition, all the files from the various activities of the Host Committee were sorted, put into a useable format and then saved onto digital media so that the next Cities of Charlotte and Tampa might be able to take advantage of some of the things we did in Minneapolis and St. Paul. When we started out, we made trips to NY, Boston and Philadelphia to see their advice and review there documents from the Convention. It was an invaluable resource.
They continue to store all the files and financial records we are required to keep for a number of years.
CP: Is there any further comment you would like to make on your involvement in the committee? JL: Yes. First, the Host Committee completed its stated mission which was to hold a Convention without cost to the taxpayers. Every dollar raised and spent by the Host Committee was from private funding, no taxpayer dollars were used. Second, the Convention was a success in putting Minneapolis/Saint Paul on the map with other cities around the country to hold conventions...
...We all wish the FEC moved quicker and more decisively, either to take action or allow us to close our doors sooner. But they didn't. It was my job to ensure that all the work we did running up to and after the Convention would not be lost because we closed our doors before we were allowed to do so. Despite that frustration with the FEC delays, we were still able to fulfill our mission and help the community.
CP sent Larson a follow-up e-mail asking him to clarify a few more things. This was his response:
JL: I have spent far too much time on your request already..and taking calls from the dozens of people you are requesting information from
Bottom line is the host committee raised private dollars to put on the convention..no public dollars were used. We raised dollars to relieve taxpayers of paying for services including promoting the Minneapolis St Paul area. We had a great Convention from all accounts. We had over $6 million dollars left over (unprecedented). We had an issue with the FEC which we recently resolved
As we have shown other political host committee's have been in existence this long or longer..
if the board has questions of how we spent money I am sure they will ask me..but I am not answering anymore of your questions..