Updated with Common Cause reaction
Administrative judges this week ordered $1,200 in civil penalties regarding a 2010 Republican recount fund but dismissed complaints against a former Republican Party chair.
The decision, coming nearly two and a half years after the election ended, may finally settle the long running turmoil over how the GOP paid for the Emmer-Dayton recount. Last year, the state's campaign finance agency slapped the party and its former chairman Tony Sutton with $30,000 in fines over the recount fund.
Since 2010, the party adopted all the debts of the recount fund, as the state's campaign finance board determined it should. The legal fees from the recount alone amounted to nearly $600,000. The party now has nearly $1.7 million in debt.
The administrative law judges' order stemmed from a Common Cause complaint over "Count them All Properly," a fund set up to pay Republican costs for the recount. Common Cause claimed that because Count them All Properly was created as a for profit corporation and the Republican Party ultimately controlled the fund, Sutton, the fund and its board members violated the prohibition against taking corporate contributions.
The administrative law judges dismissed allegations against Sutton, who suddenly resigned at the end of 2011 as questions were raised about the party's finances, saying that Common Cause did not prove he knowingly violated the prohibition.
"We are pleased that the Administrative Law Judges have vindicated Tony Sutton’s position. They found that he had no intent to violate the law," said Sutton attorney Kevin Magnuson. "That is a very important finding. That should bring this matter to an end.”
But the judges did find Dan Puhl, who did accounting and compliance work for the party and set up the fund, violated the prohibition against corporate contributions as did Count Them All Properly Board members Mary Igo, Tom Datwyler and Fred Meyer.
The judges fined Count Them All Property and Puhl $600 each and "reprimanded" but did not assess any civil penalty against the board members.
Their attorney, John Gilmore, said his clients will not appeal.
'What Common Cause attempted to do is criminalize a mistake," Gilmore said. "I’m delighted that it is finally over and done with."
Common Cause attorney Diane Gerth said she was satisfied that the judges determined that indeed, as they claimed, the Republicans' actions violated the prohibition against accepting corporate contributions.
"They recognized how bad this was," Gerth said. She said, howeverm that she was dissatisfied that a major political party was so "sloppy."
The judges also decided not to refer the case to the county attorney for criminal charges.
Gerth said she would discuss with her clients if they would take steps to further pursue the issue.