MNGOP Rep. Bob Barrett's false campaign flyer may have propelled him to November victory

Barrett (left) has been fined for a campaign flyer containing a blatant lie about Olseen (right). Barrett won November's election by 400 votes.
Barrett (left) has been fined for a campaign flyer containing a blatant lie about Olseen (right). Barrett won November's election by 400 votes.

Last November, Republican Bob Barrett squared off against former DFL state Sen. Rick Olseen in a tight contest for a newly created Lindstrom-area Senate seat.

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In the days leading up to the election, Barrett mailed out a flyer containing a blatant and easily fact-checkable lie about Olseen. Barrett went on to win the election by 400 votes. But earlier this month, the state's Office of Administrative Hearings fined Barrett $1,000 for the flyer, raising questions as to whether he would've won the election had he played by the rules.

As reported by the East Central Post Review, Barrett's flyer said Olseen "didn't serve on the Education committee while a state senator even though our schools need help." But Olseen in fact served on the Senate's Education Police Committee from 2007-2008.

Bluestem Prairie's Sally Jo Sorensen points out that information about Olseen's service on the education committee (via the Minnesota Legislators Past & Present page) is the number-two Google hit for "Rick Olseen."

The Post Review got some reaction from Barrett regarding the OAH fine:

A three-member panel of judges concluded Barrett and his team prepared and disseminated false campaign material with reckless disregard as to whether it was false.

Barrett learned of the panel's findings Monday and expressed regret in an interview with the Times.

"They're the experts," he said. "I respect their decision and apologize to Mr. Olseen."

In a submission to the panel dated Jan. 24, Barrett detailed how he and/or his campaign committee members used the state's legislative website to fact-check the flyer but did not "uncover" Olseen's committee membership.

On Monday, Barrett said that at the time, he had in mind the second half of Olseen's term, as that was when the North Branch School District adopted a four-day week model. In any case, Barrett said he and his team attempted to verify Olseen's membership throughout the term.

"I looked it up and didn't see his membership, but obviously, according to the judge, I should have," Barrett told the Times. "It was an honest mistake, and shouldn't have happened...I remember looking and I remember confirming that particular bullet point, and we were just wrong."

And, again via the Post Review, here's what Olseen had to say:

Olseen wonders how the mailing might have affected the voting Nov. 6, though he is quick to add he is content position as a field representative for U.S. Congressman Rick Nolan.

Barrett did not recall the document's mailing list. If it was sizable and even 1 percent of recipients changed their vote, Olseen said, it may have been the tipping point in the election that came down to fewer than 400 votes.

"I think it's important that elected officials and candidates understand there's a responsibility on their part when they put information out there that's incorrect," Olseen said Monday.

He also worries that the punishment is not strong enough to ensure those running for office stand behind all campaign material.

If Barrett's false flyer really was the "honest mistake" he says it was -- and that's a big if -- then in light of his pathetic research skills, we're at least glad to see he didn't get a spot on the Education Committee himself.

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