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Board to query Michelle MacDonald’s listing of CLEs as campaign debt

Campaign finance filings show that three-time Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald has nearly $9,000 in unpaid campaign expenses that predate the 2018 election. The number is a big outlier in the context of this year’s contested judicial races.

Among the eight competitive races for state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and district courts, only one other candidate—incumbent 2nd District Court Judge DeAnne Hilgers—lists any unpaid obligations.

That was a $628 unpaid bill, mostly for campaign T-shirts, incurred this year but still unpaid at the last reporting deadline. Hilgers’ campaign committee also listed $2,417 in cash on hand—more than enough to cover the unpaid costs.

The “MacDonald for Justice” campaign committee reported that her 2018 campaign against incumbent Supreme Court Associate Justice Margaret Chutich had only $1,906 in the bank as of Sept. 18.

Among unpaid obligations listed on MacDonald’s disclosure form is a $2,635 bill to Deidre Evavold, who has worked as her campaign manager. Another $3,643 is listed as money MacDonald owes to herself, as a vendor. There also is a $370 expense to Buzz360 LLC, a company that does things like automated social media postings.

Other unpaid expenses include a $456 hotel bill, a $309 bill to Federal Express and a $391 bill for what appears to be a printing company, listed as “Printforchg.”

Finally, there is a $525 bill for “Minnesota Continuing Education,” located at 2550 University Ave. W., St. Paul. Lawyers’ continuing legal education classes are taught at that address, though the institution’s proper name is “Minnesota Continuing Legal Education.”

David Schultz, the Hamline University political science professor, is an attorney who both monitors judicial elections and teaches CLE classes. He said does not remember ever seeing CLE credits listed as a campaign expense.

“I’m skeptical about whether or not a CLE expense should be counted,” he said.

No specific purpose is described for any of MacDonald’s unpaid campaign obligations. Oddly, all of them are dated Jan. 1, 2018.

Reached Wednesday, MacDonald said none of the unpaid obligations listed are actual debts. She has paid the expenses out of pocket, she said, so the listings are all money that she owes to herself.

“I am not in a big hurry to pay myself back and that is why the debts are still showing up,” she said. That includes the CLE credits, she said.

Jeff Sigurdson, the Campaign Finance Board’s executive director, said Wednesday that the CLE expense looks unusual.

It’s not a clear violation, he said, and it might be permissible if the course or courses taken relate directly to elections—a course on election law, for example.

“If it isn’t related to her campaign, then it’s not appropriate,” Sigurdson said. “I don’t know what that particular expense is for, but it is a question.”

On Thursday morning, MacDonald sent an email to Minnesota Lawyer asserting that the CLE credits earned were legitimately election-related.

“It was a class for the election law, a special class where all the judges running and their campaign committees were invited to attend,” she wrote. “I paid for it and have not been reimbursed.”

In a follow-up email, MacDonald said the credits were earned “at a conference held on June 27, 2014, on Judicial Campaign Law” at Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. However, a source at Minnesota CLE said no such conference has been held there in the 11 years he has been an employee.

Sigurdson said Wednesday that the Campaign Finance Board will reach out to MacDonald’s campaign committee for an explanation.

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