Minnesota's campaign finance board today fined Margaret Anderson Kelliher's campaign for governor and the DFL Party for violating campaign finance laws late last year.
The board ruled that Kelliher's campaign violated a ban on soliciting and accepting earmarked contributions. It also said the DFL Party violated a ban on accepting earmarked contributions. The board fined Kelliher $9,000 and the DFL Party was fined $15,000.
The ruling comes after Kelliher's campaign directed donors to contribute to the DFL Party to help pay for Kelliher's use of a voter database. Kelliher said she was acting on advice from the DFL Party's executive director who thought the process was legal.
Since the issue surfaced, Kelliher and DFL Party officials called the issue an "honest mistake." Today, Kelliher said she paid the fine and wants to move on.
"We've corrected everything that we could do to correct that mistake and we obviously knew that we were going to face a consequence by the Campaign Finance Board. I accept that consequence," Kelliher said. "We've paid our fine and we made sure there was a new system in place so we don't have anything like this happen again."
DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez declined an interview request to talk about the ruling. But he said in a statement that party officials made a mistake and will accept the consequences.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton isn't ready to write off the transgression. Sutton filed the complaint with the Campaign Finance Board after reports surfaced in December about the agreement.
Sutton said he doesn't think the violation was an honest mistake and that three of the donors had already maxed out their contributions to Kelliher before they were directed to contribute to the DFL.
"If somebody maxes out to your campaign and gives you $500, they can't just go out and buy you $500 worth of copy paper and give it you," Sutton said. "That's what happened here. They had people paying for something of value so it wouldn't show up on the books and wouldn't count against their limit.
"That is very obviously circumvention and anyone who has been involved in campaigns for any length of time, any staff person would know that."
After the ruling, Democrat Matt Entenza's campaign for governor released a statement saying the "DFL's behavior amounts to an 'inside job,' that's unfair to all the other campaigns that played by the rules." The statement said DFL Party officials still have to explain why one candidate got what Entenza campaign has called a "sweetheart deal."
Kelliher's isn't the only DFL gubernatorial campaign to face sanctions. In July, Entenza's campaign for governor was fined $500 for taking contributions from a registered lobbyist during the legislative session. In 2006, he was also fined $28,000 for accepting donations above state limits during his run for Attorney General. The fine was later cut in half.
In November, the board also directed Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's campaign for governor to pay $26,000 to his campaign for mayor for the cost of a public opinion poll. The board ruled the poll was designed for a gubernatorial campaign.