The Minnesota Republican Party is leaderless, low on cash and divided.

Federal sex-trafficking charges against prolific GOP donor Anton "Tony" Lazzaro one week ago opened the door to a stunning string of allegations of retaliation, harassment and toxicity in the party that crescendoed Thursday in the ouster of its chairwoman, Jennifer Carnahan.

Activists and former staff members who shared their stories are feeling raw and exposed, but there's little time to spend healing, with the 2022 midterm election a little more than a year away and endorsing conventions even sooner. "It's like a big family Thanksgiving and there was a fight and the turkey just got thrown off the table and everyone is sitting there thinking, 'Now what do we do?' " said Jennifer DeJournett, a longtime GOP activist and state central committee delegate.

The party has 45 days to call a meeting of the more than 300 delegates, who will vote for their next party chair. No one had jumped into the race by Friday afternoon. State Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, who challenged Carnahan for chair this spring, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Whoever takes over has a big job ahead. The Minnesota Republican Party reported $8,466 in the bank in its last state campaign finance report in December. The party has $177,361 in its federal account, according to campaign records, which also show more than $64,000 in unpaid debts.

The DFL Party, in contrast, has more than $2.2 million between its state and federal accounts heading into the 2022 election.

The scandal will take a bite out of the party's limited budget, with leaders agreeing to give the more than $42,000 in contributions it received from Lazzaro to charity following his arrest. As part of Carnahan's exit package, the party's executive board voted 8-7 to pay her three months severance, or roughly $38,000. Carnahan was the deciding vote in favor of her own severance.

"That's all money that isn't there to win elections or pay for these investigations, because these investigations need to occur," said Republican Party Executive Board member Bobby Benson, who pushed to deny Carnahan any severance. "It's not going to be cheap to do the right thing."

Benson successfully moved to open an independent investigation of sexual harassment allegations that emerged this week. The party's executive board also approved a look into the party's human resources protocols, as well as a full audit of its finances. Benson said giving Carnahan severance is insulting to people who spoke out about harassment they experienced.

"It sends a bad message," he said. "We had a lot of people coming out with the same or similar stories."

The party faced another major scandal a decade ago, when former Party Chairman Tony Sutton abruptly resigned, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills that totaled nearly $2 million.

At the time, party leaders hired accountant Michael Vekich to do a deep dive into the party's finances. Others stepped in to fill the money void left by the party, including outside spending groups, congressional districts and the Republican Party caucuses in the Legislature.

The current scandal is more complicated, activists say. Carnahan's connections to Lazzaro, who she co-hosted a podcast with, will linger even after she's gone from the party. The allegations of harassment and a toxic workplace environment have also tarnished the Republican Party's brand, which could affect fundraising and recruitment of volunteers and candidates to run for office.

State Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, joined the chorus of nearly 20 lawmakers calling for Carnahan to resign after she heard about allegations of sexual harassment.

"What transpired over the past week involving our state party has been shocking and embarrassing," she said in a statement late Thursday, after news broke that Carnahan was out. "This is not about a single person, this is about the future of our party. This must serve as a wake-up call as we work to victory in 2022 and beyond."

Others are hopeful that the quick action leading to Carnahan's ouster means its most powerful currency — the GOP endorsement — will remain potent in 2022. Unlike the DFL Party, which regularly sees endorsed candidates defeated in primary elections, the GOP-endorsed candidate for office typically prevails in intraparty battles.

Three Republican candidates for governor had called for Carnahan to resign, causing concern that they'd back out of the party's endorsement process if she remained as chairwoman.

Conducting thorough investigations, changing state party protocols and electing the right person to lead the party is critical, said David Pascoe, the party's secretary. The ideal candidate will be able to unite the party, he said.

"There are all these factions in the party, the Trump factions, Libertarians, the House side, the Senate side," he said. "We need someone who can be above all of that and can be friends with all of the groups but not be completely connected to one group. We can get through this, but that's going to be extremely important."

Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042

Twitter: @bbierschbach