D.C. watchdog group accuses Minn. GOP of hiding extent of debt

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2012 - 7:38 PM

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked federal election officials to investigate the Minnesota party's financial activities under Tony Sutton.

Add another front to the Minnesota Republican Party's evolving campaign finance troubles.

Not only is it facing an investigation by the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board in St. Paul, but on Wednesday a watchdog group in Washington asked federal election officials to investigate the party's troubled bookkeeping under former state Chairman Tony Sutton.

The complaint filed by the Democratic-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleges that the GOP under Sutton deliberately hid the extent of its debt from investigators with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The group filed a federal complaint against the state party in 2007, which led to a $170,000 fine last summer and a settlement agreement. That agreement required the party to stop violating campaign finance laws and to fully disclose its debt. CREW alleges the financial troubles that surfaced last month after Sutton resigned shows that abuses continued.

"The Republican Party of Minnesota's FEC reports haven't reflected the party's actual financial condition for nearly a decade and make a mockery of the public's right to know," said the group's executive director, Melanie Sloan. "There appears to be ample evidence Mr. Sutton repeatedly lied to FEC investigators for years to achieve the party's political goals."

GOP officials have acknowledged that the party has financial problems and that some of the information they've uncovered since they began reviewing the books last month is "ugly." That process has found $2 million in debt, including $415,000 that had not previously been reported. Newly elected party Chairman Pat Shortridge said party leaders immediately reported the issues to election officials when they discovered the unreported debt.

"Following on that disclosure, we contacted the Federal Election Commission to self-report that debt and seek guidance on how we should proceed," he said in a statement issued Wednesday. "We are in the process of following those recommendations."

The complaint is the second filed against the party by an outside group within days: Last week, Common Cause Minnesota alleged widespread campaign finance violations against the party over its activities in the 2010 state elections and gubernatorial recount. The group asked the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to audit the party's finances and received word this week the board will investigate.

Sutton maintains he did nothing wrong and accused Common Cause of being a liberal group seeking political advantage.

Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777

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