WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s Republican party was fined another $26,000 this week by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to disclose almost $250,000 in receipts, payments and debts from 2009 to 2011.

This is the second large fine levied on the state party in four years. In 2011, the Commission fined the party $170,000 for misrepresenting its debts during the same time period. A second case was opened up in 2012 after the party’s former Chairman Anthony Sutton resigned and his then-finance chair alerted the party treasurer there were another $249,000 in invoices in Sutton’s office that had not been reported to the feds during their first investigation.

The combined fines of almost $200,000 represents among the biggest penalties ever assessed by the Federal Elections Commission to a state party.

“We are glad the final chapter is now closed on the 2009-2011 problems. We moved forward from these issues two years ago, and we are very pleased the Commission recognized in the agreement the comprehensive set of new internal controls put in place in 2012,” said current GOP Chair Keith Downey, in an e-mailed statement through his spokesman.

According to the six-page compliance report finalized by the Commission this week, Sutton, who abruptly resigned Dec. 2, 2011, was retaining unpaid invoices in his office that were not included in the party’s accounting system or its official disclosure reports as debts. The Federal Elections Commission periodically requires state parties and campaigns file full reports outlining debts, disbursements and contributions.

“(Former Finance Director Ron) Huettl believed Sutton did not want certain invoices to be provided to (the party’s) compliance company because Sutton was concerned about the amount ... of debts,” the report said.

It is a criminal violation to intentionally lie to a Federal Elections Commission investigator during a probe, though it’s unclear whether the Commision or the Department of Justice have launched further investigations into the party, Sutton or Huettl.

Reached on his cell phone Thursday, Sutton said he had not heard about the most recent fine. Asked whether he intentionally lied to federal investigators about the Republican party’s debts, Sutton said he needed to learn more before commenting.

“I’m not going to comment on anything until I know more about it,” he said.
According to the FEC, “Sutton has denied deliberately concealing RPM’s (the Republican Party of Minnesota) debts.”

The watchdog roup Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed both complaints with the Commission against Minnesota’s state party. Officials there say that the party should be open and honest to its donors, candidates and voters about its financial condition.

“It’s taken a while, but by assessing fines of nearly $200,000, the FEC has finally dealt the Minnesota GOP a punishment commensurate with the deliberate deception that the party committed,” said Anne Weismann, CREW’s interim executive director, in a statement.

All told, at the end of 2011 Minnesota’s GOP had more than $2 million in bills — a burden that hampered its political efforts for the 2012 cycle. Shortly after Sutton resigned, the landlord of its St. Paul headquarters served the party with an eviction notice for $111,000 in back rent.