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Continued: Politicos give Petters campaign cash the heave-ho

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 13, 2008 - 10:38 AM

Minnesota politicians are scrambling to jettison campaign cash donated by Tom Petters, the Twin Cities businessman accused of high-level fraud.

"We are giving the money to the Boys & Girls Club for this cycle," said Mark Drake, spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, referring to $4,600 Petters contributed to the senator's campaign since 2003. Coleman's campaign got another $2,000 from Petters during the 2002 race for U.S. Senate.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, is giving $4,200 she got from Petters in 2005 and 2006, and additional contributions from some of his associates, to the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and other groups.

Petters, it turns out, will get his $4,000 in contributions to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty refunded.

"We are returning the money," said Trisha Hamm, political director for the governor's campaign. "We have to send it back because state [campaign] finance laws limit us to $50 a year in charitable contributions."

Pols have plenty of Petters money to disgorge. He has given at least $400,000 to political campaigns, parties or interests over the years, more than half of it to Minnesotans running for state or federal offices.

He contributed to many Democratic and Republican candidates and party units across the state and country, but most of the money went to Republicans.

Petters is being held without bond in the Sherburne County Jail on federal charges in connection with an alleged investment fraud scheme that authorities say could exceed $3 billion.

Lots of donations

He is one of the Twin Cities' best-known entrepreneurs, with holdings that include Polaroid, Fingerhut and Sun Country Airlines.

Petters has given nearly $200,000 since 2000 to the campaigns of candidates for the U.S. House and Senate and the White House, to federal Republican and Democratic party units and to political action committees (PACs), according to the Federal Election Commission.

He gave about the same amount to candidates, parties and PACs in state races since 1998, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

He gave to George W. Bush and to John Kerry, to the Republican Party of Minnesota and the Minnesota DFL.

Even before Petters' legal troubles, campaigns were refunding some of his money because he sometimes contributed in excess of federal spending limits.

Coleman's campaign got $6,600 from Petters when the businessman listed either suburban Twin Cities or Florida addresses. Klobuchar got $4,200, and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, also a Democrat, got $3,300, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"We had no idea what kind of stuff was going on," said Blake Chaffee, campaign manager for Oberstar, who was chairman of the House Transportation Committee when Petters was the major stockholder in Sun Country Airlines.

"We are going to get rid of the money," Chaffee said. "I assume it's going to happen next week. I can't tell you the charity yet because Jim hasn't picked."

Not all of Petters' contributions were large. He donated $500 to Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg in his race this year against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican.

"We gave it to a fund for people who lost their homes in an Elk River apartment fire," said Tinklenberg's spokesman, John Wodele.

Aside from contributions made directly to candidates' campaigns, Petters in some instances gave money to PACs sponsored by politicians to enhance their clout with colleagues.

In addition to the money that Petters gave Klobuchar's campaign, he gave $5,000 to her Follow the North Star Fund, a "leadership" PAC, which is a vehicle that elected officials use to raise money to help elect other politicians.

Coleman's Northstar Leadership PAC got $10,000 from Petters between 2003 and 2005, and his Coleman Leadership PAC got $5,000 in 2002.

The Coleman campaign said that it would donate any Petters contributions to the PACs or its campaign since 2002.

Klobuchar campaign finance director Tom Perron said she donated the $5,000 to the Red Cross.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

  • about this series

  • The Star Tribune's coverage of the federal fraud case against entrepreneur Tom Petters and the struggles of Petters-owned Sun Country Airlines.

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