Otto gov camp watches who watches Auditor Otto

Rebecca Otto the Democratic candidate for Minnesota governor is keeping tabs on who seeks information about Rebecca Otto the state auditor.

Otto's campaign has a standing request for copies of requests for records submitted with the auditor's office. That practice was confirmed Thursday after a top supporter of U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan's possible run for governor questioned on Twitter why his March 30 data practices request was circulated this week by an Otto political backer to Democrats statewide under the subject line "Let's keep it positive."

Justin Perpich, the 8th Congressional District DFL chairman who also leads a draft effort to get Nolan into the 2018 race, said he believes it was done to undermine his reputation. In an interview, Perpich insisted he wasn't conducting opposition research on Otto when he requested details on her budget and costs associated with an ongoing legal challenge she has undertaken.

"If I were to do an oppo research, I would do it in a way where I would not put my name attached to those requests," Perpich said. "I wasn't trying to hide anything. I'm not going to use this research to attack anybody."

Otto's husband, Shawn Otto, who serves as treasurer for Rebecca Otto's gubernatorial campaign, filed his own data request with the auditor's office on March 15, seeking to be "immediately copied on any data requests made to the Office of the State Auditor" going forward. The request sought both the submissions by others and the resulting correspondence.

A March 31st reply from Otto's office included information requests submitted by two counties, the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget, and Perpich.

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Jim Levi, communications director for the auditor's office, said the campaign's request was made in accordance with established data practices policy for the office. That policy says standing requests hold for three months and then must be renewed.

Otto's campaign consultant Bill Hyers said there is nothing unusual with the arrangement.

"Every campaign I've ever been a part of, we always do that. It's standard operating procedure," Hyers said. "We want to keep track of who is looking at what."

Hyers said the Perpich request stood out because of his dual role as a congressional district chairman and Nolan booster.

"He should answer to why he did it, and as 8th District chair why he is actively looking for dirt on Auditor Otto," Hyers said.

Perpich said he hasn't filed any similar requests for data with the current offices of other candidates for governor.

"To assume I'm going to use it for ill-intent is what frustrates me the most," Perpich said.

Nolan told MinnPost on Thursday that he is leaning toward running for governor and would make his decision by the end of April.

If he jumps into the wide-open race -- incumbent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton isn't running again -- he would join a burgeoning field. Besides Otto, the declared Democrats so far are: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Reps. Erin Murphy and Tina Liebling and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

The Republican field has been slower to form but so far includes: Christopher Chamberlain, Phillip Parrish, Ole Savior and Jeffrey Wharton.