Embattled Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald on Wednesday filed a complaint against the state Republican Party that endorsed her, alleging its leadership attempted to coerce her to abandon her endorsement or withdraw from the race following revelations of her pending drunken driving trial.
The 85-page complaint filed with the State Office of Administrative Hearings accuses the Minnesota Republican Party, its executive committee, Chairman Keith Downey, attorney Patrick Burns, Judicial Election Committee chair Doug Seaton and former State Auditor and former Republican National Committeewoman Pat Anderson of violating the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act.
MacDonald alleges they conspired to deter her from continuing to run as a Republican for Supreme Court justice, despite her having received the party’s endorsement at its May convention.
The disclosure of MacDonald’s legal troubles drew ire from state GOP leadership who say they, along with most delegates outside the 18-member Judicial Election Committee, didn’t know about MacDonald’s arrest or controversial legal philosophy when they endorsed her to run against Justice David Lillehaug. However, they could not withdraw the endorsement without calling another convention, but instead took action to bar her from campaigning at the Minnesota State Fair.
MacDonald’s complaint alleges that the four conspired to coerce her and also “disseminated materials that were false and reckless” about her that “concerned my personal and political character, and my actions.” She said she intends to request an expedited hearing on the complaint.
Although she was only contacted directly by Burns and Downey, who notified her she couldn’t campaign at the fair, MacDonald alleges a conspiracy.
“This is what I call the invisible corruption. They were all talking, scheming,” she said.
MacDonald’s complaint, backed up by pages of text messages and telephone call transcripts, alleges attorney Patrick Burns approached her on multiple occasions from June, when news broke of MacDonald’s pending case, to Aug. 23, urging her to withdraw from the campaign or renounce the endorsement.
MacDonald said Burns approached her on behalf of the party asking her to do so — a claim Downey denies. Burns said he was not representing the party when he contacted her. On the same day MacDonald refused to withdraw, Downey sent an e-mail to delegates defending the decision to ban her from the GOP’s State Fair booth. He also acknowledged that MacDonald remains their endorsed candidate.
Attorney Greg Wersal, who appeared with MacDonald on Wednesday, said the text messages constitute threats, with Downey's e-mail the end result.
In the text messages, Burns’ tone changes from a concerned friend urging MacDonald to withdraw from the race to that of a negotiator.
“Michelle, are you going to get out of the race, or at a minimum give up the endorsement? If not for yourself, don’t further embarrass the party,” Burns wrote in one message.
“Here is a strong suggestion. If you give up the endorsement, nobody will attack you. No further news stories, videos, etc.” he said in another.
Following MacDonald’s State Fair showdown, Burns wrote:
“The party is going to start coming after you. All of the other candidates are going to endorse your opponent, and the media will make you look stupid. If/when you are convicted, you’re going to be a puddle on the side of the road.”
Burns stopped texting MacDonald after he learned that she recorded a telephone conversation with him, which was later published on politics.mn, and is now part of the complaint.
MacDonald refused to address what she would do if convicted at her Sept. 15 trial, saying it’s a moot point because she will be exonerated. Even if she is convicted, Wersal said she’ll have his support.
“I’m gonna be voting for her, irregardless,” he said. “And I would tell other people to vote for her, irregardless.”
Not long after the news conference, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who initially expressed support for MacDonald as a fellow endorsed candidate, changed course.
"As the leader of the Republican ticket, I tried hard to remain patient with Michelle MacDonald during these past few weeks.” Johnson said in a statement. “Her actions, however, show me that she is not interested in waging a serious campaign and I can no longer support her. I'll likely be writing someone in for Supreme Court Justice."
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, also lashed out in frustration at MacDonald following her news conference.
“To me, the real question, is why isn’t she running a campaign? This whole focus seems to be ‘We’re going to be going after the people we don’t like or the people who disagree with us.'" he said. "She has raised $120 and she has not done a thing in media or press releases that indicates why she should become a Supreme Court Justice.”
Hann said he won’t be voting for Lillehaug, but said he still was unsure whether he’d vote for MacDonald because he still doesn’t know anything about her platform.
“If she’s a legitimate candidate she should be running a campaign, and I’m frustrated she’s not doing that.”
Minnesota Republican Party spokeswoman Brittni Palke declined to comment.
Read the complaint here: