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Mike Freeman's endorsement list didn't hold up

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, used to being the one accusing someone of a crime, might've broken state law himself.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, used to being the one accusing someone of a crime, might've broken state law himself. Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Back in May, Mark Haase won the DFL Party endorsement over Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Did you know that? Better believe Mike Freeman did.

Freeman, who'd run unopposed his previous two elections, was facing his real test in the county prosecutor's office. Before the convention he said he'd keep running for his office even if he lost the party endorsement to Haase. He did, and handily: Haase took 65 percent of the delegate vote on the first ballot.

"I'm excited about the job," Freeman told Minnesota Public Radio before losing. "I think I'm still at the top of my game."

Mike's "game" might have involved breaking the rules. 

As of early October, Freeman's campaign website listed a set of "2018 Endorsements," ostensibly providing would-be voters with the names of people supporting the incumbent. It's an impressive list: Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, DFL U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz -- both leaving Congress to run for statewide office this year -- and Dean Phillips, the up-and-coming candidate trying to end GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen's dismal career.

What a feat it would've been, for Freeman to get the endorsement of so many significant Democrats, despite his having lost the party's endorsement to Mark Haase. The only problem with this list is it's not true.

Spokespersons for Walz, Ellison, Smith, and Phillips confirmed to City Pages their campaigns did not endorse either candidate in the Hennepin County attorney race.

Claiming someone supports you when they don't isn't just bad manners. It's against Minnesota state law. Here's how state statute 211.B.02 reads:

"A person or candidate may not knowingly make, directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying that a candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of a major political party or party unit or of an organization. A person or candidate may not state in written campaign material that the candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of an individual without first getting written permission from the individual to do so."

So what went wrong here? How'd Mike Freeman come to think he had the endorsement of almost every noteworthy Democrat in Minnesota when he didn't?

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He's not quite saying, but the fact that some of these endorsements -- Walz, Ellison, and Phillips, to name a few -- eventually got removed from his website probably means something.

In a statement response to City Pages' query, Freeman's campaign explained its mistake as a result of "miscommunication on support versus endorsement," and encouraged City Pages to check Mike's "updated website" for the current list of his backers.

Said the campaign: "Mike continues to gain key supporters."

Those include a number of prominent labor unions, and Dayton's and Klobuchar's names are still there. The Klobuchar endorsement is legitimate, as confirmed by her campaign Monday. Klobuchar is a former county attorney herself (1999-2007), having served in the office in between Freeman's two stints at the helm. A spokesperson for Gov. Mark Dayton also confirmed the outgoing governor is backing Freeman in this race.

The rest of the DFL ticket-toppers have been removed, as have several other prominent urban Democrats, including DFL Sens. Kari Dziedzic and Scott Dibble, both of Minneapolis.The shift in Freeman's endorsements was noticed and publicized by independent journalist Tony Webster, who also provided City Pages with screenshots reflecting these short-lived claims.

Prosecution of violations like this, a misdemeanor under state law, are rare. For a conviction, an Office of Adminitrative Hearings judge would have to find that Freeman (or a campaign staffer) "knowingly" put together this phony list of endorsements.

Only a few people could confirm such a scenario. One is Mike Freeman. Him, and whoever has the keys to his campaign website. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Mark Dayton supports Mike Freeman's reelection.