A longtime St. Paul state representative and candidate for state attorney general is facing $20,000 in fines over allegations that he misspent campaign funds and that he did not complete proper reports on his campaign’s finances.
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board said Tuesday that Rep. John Lesch, an eight-term DFL representative who was first elected in 2002, did not save receipts for five separate bank transactions and that he filed reports that lacked some required information. The five transfers from Lesch’s campaign account to his personal account took place over a four-year period and totaled about $8,700. After several years of sorting through records, the board said it had been unable to determine that those transfers were reimbursements for campaign expenses, rather than personal deposits.
In a statement, Lesch said he was “disappointed” with the board’s order but glad to sort out a matter that had stretched out over several years.
“I acknowledge that the campaign did not maintain adequate records of its expenses,” he said. “The record keeping, passage of time and changes in campaign treasurers made it difficult to reproduce the details of transactions that occurred between four and seven years ago.”
Lesch said he did not use campaign money for personal expenses, noting that “the Board’s conclusion that funds were converted to personal use is unfounded. It remains based solely on the absence of receipts.”
The board’s investigation included inspections of Lesch’s campaign and personal bank accounts and interviews with his campaign treasurers. One of those treasurers is his wife, Melissa Lesch. The board found evidence of disorganized record keeping, noting that some financial transactions were “indicative of a high level of inattention and carelessness regarding [campaign] Committee funds.”
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund, a group that backs conservative candidates, called on Lesch to end his campaign for attorney general. In a statement, the group’s executive director, John Rouleau, said the board’s findings “make clear that [Lesch] has abused the public trust and is completely unfit to serve as our state’s attorney general.”
Lesch did not address the campaign in his statement. He is now expected to file seven years’ worth of amended campaign reports and pay four separate fines.
That includes a $15,000 fine assessed to him personally and $5,000 in fines assessed to his campaign.
Lesch said he stands by his campaign’s work but accepts responsibility for the inadequate record keeping.