St. Paul's top prosecutor said Friday she won't pursue criminal charges against former Minnesota Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton for fundraising irregularities that have already led to fines against him and the GOP.
City attorney Sarah Grewing said in a letter supplied to The Associated Press that it would be hard to prove Sutton was willfully violating a state law. The letter was issued to Common Cause Minnesota, the watchdog group that wanted Sutton charged for shielding expenses related to the 2010 gubernatorial recount.
The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled last month that Sutton improperly circumvented disclosure laws and fined him $3,000. As GOP chairman, Sutton helped arrange a shell company that he told regulators was designed to keep donor information private.
"While the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board did an extremely thorough job investigating this matter and assessing civil penalties, its finding of probable cause of a criminal violation does not necessarily merit a criminal prosecution," Grewing wrote to Common Cause director Mike Dean.
"While Mr. Sutton's actions are troubling, and indeed go to the heart of what Minnesota's campaign finance system is created to avoid, we believe that we would not be able to prove his criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt in court."
Grewing said several prosecutors in her office reviewed the evidence before deciding against charging Sutton. Any charge he would have faced would have been a misdemeanor.
Sutton didn't immediately return a call for comment. Messages left for Dean were also not returned immediately.
Sutton resigned as party chairman last winter amid reports that the state GOP was in dire financial shape. It was later revealed that the party was more than $2 million in debt, much of it tied to the recount.
The corporation established to pay recount legal bills, Count Them All Properly, has barely made a dent in those costs. The GOP owes almost $580,000 to three law firms.
In its July ruling, the campaign board found that Sutton violated a state law barring circumvention of disclosure laws by redirecting a $30,000 contribution from a prominent GOP donor to Count Them All Properly.
Sutton was frank about the setup when asked about it by investigators, according to a transcript of a deposition released by the campaign board.
"I thought that that anonymity, you know, one of the appealing parts about it is it's anonymous, doesn't have to go on a finance report and that might appeal to potential contributors," Sutton said.
Still, Sutton issued a statement last month disagreeing with the campaign board's conclusion that he skirted state law.
The Republican Party was fined $27,000 for how it handled the money. The board also fined Count Them All Properly $3,000 and ordered it to detail its finances, which it has yet to do.
All the fines must be paid by mid-August or new penalties could be assessed.