The question of the day: Will controversial Obama and Minnesota DFL contributor Johannes Marliem be in the audience for today’s speech by President Barack Obama at St. Paul’s Union Depot?
If Marliem plans to show up, he hasn’t given a hint in his Twitter account. His only tweet at the time of this writing today referred to another of his passions: the plight of endangered orangutans in his native Indonesia.
The rise of the 29-year-old Orono businessman and his wife Mai Chie Thor as big-time Democratic donors has been nothing short of miraculous, providing a windfall for state and national political groups.
Marliem gave $225,000 to the 2013 Obama inauguration, by far Minnesota’s biggest contribution to the gala. The Indonesian national and permanent US resident also raised $70,000 and made a personal $2,500 contribution to the 2012 Obama campaign. His wife outbid Marliem by raising $100,000 for the Democrats in 2012, Federal Election Commission records show.
More recently in 2013, Marliem donated $50,000 to the Minnesota DFL and $25,000 to WIN Minnesota, a Democratic affiliated group, according to Minnesota's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board reports.
So why does a prominent Minnesota campaign finance and political analyst suggest state Democrats give his money back? As it turns out, Marliem plead guilty and was convicted of theft by swindle in Hennepin County Court in 2010, a gross misdemeanor involving more than $11,000 in bad checks.
“Overall, the DFL loses some moral high ground on political donations taking money from him, and they should return the money,” said David Schultz, past president of Common Cause Minnesota and political analyst and professor at Hamline University.
National Democrats told the Star Tribune back in April 2013 that they only wish they’d had the chance to return Marliem’s $72,500 in donations. “The criminal background of this individual did not come up in the routine vetting conducted at the time of the contribution. This contribution would not have been accepted by the (Obama Victory Fund) if these facts had been known at the time,” said Brad Woodhouse, an official with the Democratic National Committee.
That Marliem and his spouse find themselves in this position marks quite a turnaround in the past five years. Public records indicate their $132,000 Maplewood townhome was foreclosed on in June 2009. By February 2012 the couple had purchased a $2 million waterfront mansion on a private road overlooking Lake Minnetonka, county documents show.
Efforts to reach Marliem, DFL party chairman Ken Martin and Win Minnesota executive director Adam Duininck were unsuccessful. But that may not be the last of it.
“This is the type of donation that looks bad for the DFL and it could be used against them politically in 2014,” said Schultz.
Marliem's $2 million Lake Minnetonka home.