Seven donors gave the DFL Party money that benefited House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher in an arrangement that raised questions about the gubernatorial candidate's campaign and its relationship to the party.
On Friday, when news broke about the deal, Kelliher said only three donors were involved, each giving $500 in what amounted to a partial payment for Kelliher's access to a party voter database.
But on Monday, DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez acknowledged that the party had credited four other donations to the database payments. Kelliher campaign manager Jaime Tincher said those donors contributed a total of $6,000, which was credit to Kelliher's payment. Tincher said the campaign only knew about the three donors last week.
Melendez said those four donors did not know their donations were credited to Kelliher's database access and they have declined a refund.
"It's news to them that she was getting voter file fee [credit] out of it," Melendez said. The other three have had their contributions refunded, he added.
The state Republican Party on Monday accused Kelliher of having a cover story that had begun to unravel and demanded she "come clean with Minnesotans."
On Monday, Melendez sent an e-mail to other DFL gubernatorial candidates, apologizing for what he called "a blunder, not a conspiracy." In the e-mail, Melendez said the party "regrets the error, and I apologize to the Kelliher campaign for the resulting embarrassment."
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Melendez said Kelliher had raised the money from the four additional donors for the DFL as part of the party's regular fundraising efforts. A Kelliher campaign staffer then told a DFL staffer that Kelliher had raised the cash and she was given credit for it.
Tincher, the campaign manager, said she was not sure why Kelliher was given credit for the donations of the four additional donors. She said the donors were: Ted Grindal, a lobbyist, Tom Joyce, Yasmina Vinci and Joanne Strakosh. All together, those four donors contributed $6,000, and each made a contribution of more than $500, the limit on any individual's donation to a candidate for governor in 2009.
On Friday, after news reports made the arrangement public, the state Republican Party filed a complaint with the state campaign finance board, asking for an investigation. That same day, Kelliher told the campaign finance board of a "possible violation of state campaign finance law" and said her campaign had paid the party $4,000 to repay for donors' direct contributions to the DFL. That $4,000 payment was made last Thursday, Tincher said.
In fact, Tincher said the party had credited Kelliher with $7,000 in total contributions. Kelliher has since paid the $13,000 fee charged to other candidates, said Andy O'Leary, the DFL's executive director.
Other DFL candidates for governor have said the party played favorites by allowing Kelliher donors to pay for her access, in a deal not made available to anyone else.
Melendez said in an e-mail it was "an honest mistake, not favoritism."
He said: "While I understand the suspicion and paranoia that inevitably infects any hard-fought campaign, please keep ... in mind: the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation."
Melendez said he first heard of the arrangement around noon on Dec. 1 from a consultant for Rep. Tom Rukavina, another DFL gubernatorial candidate, who had asked for equal treatment. The next day, he said, DFL staffers conferred with a party attorney, realized the arrangement wasn't appropriate, and informed the Kelliher and Rukavina campaigns.
Melendez informed the campaign finance board of the arrangement on Monday, saying that "we didn't want to report to the campaign finance board until we knew that everything was square."
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164