MNGOP: Alleged recount debt conspiracy could mean jail time for Sutton, dissolution of party

Sutton allegedly "masterminded" what amounts to a money laundering scheme.
Sutton allegedly "masterminded" what amounts to a money laundering scheme.

SEE ALSO: Tony Sutton fined $3,000, MNGOP fined $26,900 by Minnesota Campaign Finance Board

It just keeps getting worse for the MNGOP.

During a news conference this morning, Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean announced his watchdog organization is filing criminal complaints against the MNGOP and former chairman Tony Sutton for allegedly soliciting and accepting an illegal contribution from Count Them All Properly, a then for-profit corporation that Sutton and other state Republican leaders founded in December 2010 to help pay down recount debt.

If a St. Paul city prosecutor brings charges against Sutton, he could face five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The allegations against the MNGOP would have to be taken up by a Ramsey County prosecutor, but if penalized to the fullest extent of the law the MNGOP could be dissolved.

As Dean explains it, during the 2010 recount, the MNGOP racked up over $700,000 in legal debt. After Tom Emmer conceded the election to Dayton, MNGOP leadership asked all attorneys who had worked on the party's behalf during the recount to reissue their invoices and send them to Count Them All Properly, the idea being that Count Them All would be responsible for paying down the recount debt from then forward.

Later on, at the behest of Sutton and other MNGOP leaders, well-known Republican donor Robert Cummins ended up giving $30,000 to Count Them All -- money that was then funneled to three law firms who had worked on behalf of the MNGOP's recount effort and hadn't yet been paid for it.

Said Dean at a press conference today:

The purpose was to funnel this money, to pay for the legal expenses of the Minnesota Republican Party and Tom Emmer. It was set up that way to avoid disclosure. This is not just small crime that was committed -- this carries severe penalties with it.

Dean believes Sutton and other MNGOP leaders implicated in the alleged donation-funneling conspiracy are guilty of "circumvention," which is defined as such: "An individual or association that attempts to circumvent this chapter by redirecting a contribution through, or making a contribution on behalf of, another individual or association." The MNGOP as a whole, meanwhile, allegedly violated statute 211B.15, which bars corporations from making donations to political parties.

Last week, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled that the MNGOP is in fact responsible for all the remaining recount debt, not Count Them All Properly. The decision pushed the MNGOP's total debt back above $1 million.

During an interview with City Pages, Dean acknowledges it's "highly unlikely" the MNGOP would be ordered to dissolve if found guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

"We're in a multi-party system, and we need both parties," Dean said. "Think of [dissolution] as the capital punishment of this crime... [but] it is an option."

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