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MN GOP faces state, federal complaints over finances

Jake Grovum//January 5, 2012

MN GOP faces state, federal complaints over finances

Jake Grovum//January 5, 2012

Pat Shortridge, newly elected state Republican Party chairman.

Less than a week after top Minnesota Republican officials and activists gathered in St. Cloud to put the party’s financial troubles behind them, a pair of complaints from government watchdog groups is threatening to not only keep the issue in the public eye but perhaps lead to further sanctions or fines  if violations are found.

Minnesota’s chapter of Common Cause and Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington have brought or are preparing complaints over the GOP finances to the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and the Federal Elections Commission,  respectively. News of the FEC complaint was first reported by Minnesota Public Radio.

The Common Cause complaint alleges  party leaders tried to circumvent disclosure laws, particularly when it comes to a separate recount legal fund established to help pay for efforts following the 2010 gubernatorial election. Debts associated with those efforts played a large role in the financial and disclosure turmoil that forced the resignation of former GOP chairman Tony Sutton a month ago.

The Common Cause complaint also says the party filed false reports with the state and failed to gain party treasurer approval for expenditures over $100. It asks the Campaign Finance Board to conduct a full audit of GOP finances going back several years.

“The Republican Party of Minnesota has been using Enron-esque accounting standards to manage the party’s finances,” Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said in a statement. “In keeping many expenditures off the books, the party has broken numerous state laws.”

Meanwhile, the D.C.-based Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington plans to levy it own complaint against the MN GOP to the Federal Elections Commission. CREW is the same group that brought a complaint over the summer against the party that said it had failed to report debts dating back to 2006, an allegation that led to fines against the party and pledge to keep its books in order going forward.

“We seem to be seeing a repeat of the same kind of problems with the Republican Party’s finances,” Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, told MPR News.

The complaints come less than a week after party officials said a review of finances had uncovered as much as $2 million in debt, a potentially four times larger than activists were led to believe just a month ago.

“The debt number is honestly higher than any of us wants it to be,” Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson, who helped lead the financial review, said at the time. “There’s some ugly stuff in here.”

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