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Murkiness Surrounds Money In Minn. Gov. Recount

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Republican Tom Emmer, Democrat Mark Dayton (credit: CBS)

Republican Tom Emmer, Democrat Mark Dayton (credit: CBS)

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ST. PAUL (AP) — As the unsettled Minnesota governor’s race moves to a re-count, the money to keep the battle going can flow freely — and possibly without public disclosure of who is bankrolling it.

Unlike their traditional campaigns, Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer won’t face per-donor limits on contributions to their re-count efforts nor will they be required later to submit state paperwork. Dayton leads Emmer by about 8,750 votes, a small enough margin to force an automatic re-count.

State campaign money watchdog Gary Goldsmith said Minnesota campaign finance law is a relatively blank slate when it comes to money for re-counts and elections that spill into the courts, as this one could.

“In the absence of law, it is in fact unregulated,” said Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. “From our perspective, it’s fairly clear we don’t have jurisdiction over something like the funding of a re-count effort.”

There are some advisory opinions on corporate and lobbyist giving, but those are nonbinding and could be unenforceable if candidates set up accounts separate from those used to fund their fall campaigns.

Already, Dayton has established a re-count fund through the IRS. Emmer is relying on the state Republican Party to manage recount finances. A state party spokesman said the GOP’s precise fundraising plans are still being worked out.

But donors are gearing up. The Elephant Club, a collection of major GOP donors, is holding a “recount briefing” on Thursday in Minneapolis, according to a posting on the group’s Facebook page.

In Minnesota’s drawn-out 2008 Senate race, Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman combined to spend more than $14 million on their postelection fight. But they faced restrictions under federal campaign law.

Both gubernatorial candidates were asked Tuesday if they intended to limit checks from donors or wall off any kind of donor, such as those with matters in front of state government.

Emmer said he would “abide by the law” and dismissed other questions as hypothetical. Dayton said he plans to disclose contributions after the process is complete, but he is operating as though he can take unlimited donations.

“We’re not setting this up to be a fundraising operation. We’ll take the money we need to operate,” Dayton said. “We’re hoping and expecting this will be relatively short term.”

Dayton said he believes only lobbyists’ money is off limits.

However, Goldsmith said the lobbyist exclusion doesn’t appear to apply to Dayton because he’s not yet a public official who is covered by the state gift ban. Emmer is a state representative and considered a public official until that term ends in January or he resigns.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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