ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A campaign finance case that resulted in a $100,000 penalty against the Senate DFL Caucus won’t change after getting a fresh look Tuesday from regulators.
The state’s campaign board met privately to discuss whether the case deserved more scrutiny and wound up ratifying an agreement reached last month. The settlement with the Senate’s majority was over a complaint of illegal coordination with more than a dozen candidates. It was among the largest penalties ever levied in a Minnesota campaign finance investigation.
Ratification of the deal by the six-member board means the individual lawmakers involved won’t face any direct fines of their own, to the dismay of Republicans who have argued their rivals in close races wound up with an unfair advantage.
“It concludes the board’s work and is binding in respect to the transactions and parties that were subject to the investigation,” Gary Goldsmith, the board’s executive director, said of Tuesday’s vote to complete the 14-month probe.
It stems from mailed campaign ads in 2012 races that were supposed to be conducted independent of the candidates. The brochures featured professionally staged photos, which the GOP said amounted to active participation by the candidates. Democrats won all but a couple of the races at issue and knocked Republicans out of the majority.
The board ruled last month that cooperation between the party and its candidates to produce campaign mailings destroyed the wall needed to keep them independent. The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Bakk, said at the time that the settlement wasn’t an admission of guilt but was meant to put the matter to rest.
A lawyer for the Senate DFL Caucus and the board’s chairwoman, Deanna Weiner, signed the agreement on Dec. 17. But Goldsmith said the board didn’t properly vote on it then, resulting in the new attention. He wouldn’t comment on whether board members debated amending the terms, citing confidentiality rules of deliberations in executive sessions.
The Associated Press objected to the move to discuss the settled case in a closed hearing, but Goldsmith defended the decision given potential litigation that could have still arisen.
Senate DFL lawyer Charlie Nauen declined to comment before the closed session and didn’t immediately respond to a phone call after.
The Senate DFL had 90 days from mid-December to pay its fine, but hadn’t yet. “I haven’t signed a deposit slip,” Goldsmith said.
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