Common Cause seeks charges against GOP

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 9:43 PM

Watchdog group wants former state chairman prosecuted over recount spending.

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Tony Sutton

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An election watchdog group wants criminal charges brought against the former head of the state Republican Party and others it accuses of breaking state election laws.

Common Cause Minnesota is asking the Office of Administrative Hearing to determine whether there is probable cause for the Ramsey County attorney to bring criminal charges against former party chairman Tony Sutton and others involved in the fundraising tangle that surrounded the 2010 gubernatorial recount. Common Cause also wants the St. Paul city attorney to look into possible violations of state campaign finance law.

The complaint comes days after the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board slapped the state GOP with a $30,000 fine for taking inappropriate campaign contributions from a for-profit company it created to help pay for the 2010 recount. The board leveled a $3,000 fine against Sutton himself, noting that he oversaw a state party rife with "out of control" spending and sloppy bookkeeping.

"At a time when public trust in government is at an all-time low, it's critical that we hold politicians accountable when they break that trust," Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, told reporters on Wednesday. "I think criminal prosecution of Mr. Sutton would be an important deterrent that is needed to protect the democratic process. The brazen actions by Mr. Sutton were not accidental, but a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law."

Sutton issued a brief statement on Wednesday: "I believe I have done nothing wrong and think Common Cause is attempting to exploit this situation for political gain."

The company Sutton created, Count Them All Properly Inc., funneled donations back to the state Republican Party to pay for the recount effort while sidestepping state campaign finance reporting requirements that would have required it to identify its donors, the state board noted.

Common Cause's complaint accuses Sutton and five other former leaders of the state party and Count Them All Properly of accepting illegal contributions and aiding in the acceptance of illegal corporate contributions.

"At a time when secret money is flooding our political system, [prosecutors have] an opportunity to send a message that Minnesota's disclosure laws will be enforced and those that attempt to circumvent the law will be held accountable," Dean said.

The complaint came on a day when Minnesota's political committees and ballot question committees were turning in their latest round of campaign finance reports.

Between June 13 and July 11, Minnesotans United for All Families raised another $759,000 -- more than their amendment opponents, Minnesotans for Marriage, have raised all year.

"We are really proud and excited," said Kate Brickman, spokeswoman for the group, which opposes attempts to rewrite the state Constitution to state that only marriages between a man and a woman can be legally recognized.

Reports show that Minnesotans for Marriage raised $32,000 in the monthlong period. The group has raised $620,105 between January and July 10.

"We are pleased with our fundraising efforts so far, especially with the increase in the number of new small to midsized donors," Minnesotans for Marriage chairman John Helmberger said in a statement Wednesday. "We have always said that we expect to be outspent in this campaign, but we are in a very good position to raise the funds we need to get the job done."

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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