DFL claims 'brazen' campaign finance violation by GOP attorney general candidate Jim Schultz
Polling so far has shown the contest between Schulz and Ellison to be one of the closest statewide races. With the candidates in a dead heat, the intensity of the campaign has increased in recent weeks, with each campaign leveling allegations of ethics and campaign rule violations. In a statement responding to the DFL complaint, Schultz campaign spokeswoman Christine Snell dismissed the claims as an attempt to take attention away from the issues in the race.
ST. PAUL — The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has filed a complaint against Republican attorney general candidate Jim Schultz claiming his campaign illegally coordinated with an outside group that bought more than $800,000 in TV ads on three Minnesota TV stations.
DFL Party chairman Ken Martin told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 19, that a representative with the Schultz campaign also worked for an outside group forbidden from coordinating with the campaign in a “brazen and unethical” breach of campaign finance rules.
“How can Minnesotans trust that Jim Schultz would effectively enforce Minnesota's laws when he doesn't even follow them himself?” Martin said. “This is a very serious and clear violation.”
DFL attorney David Zoll said he expects the state Campaign Finance Board will issue a prompt ruling on the matter, though a decision on any fine may come well after the election. Martin and Zoll said if the board finds a violation, the DFL will ask TV stations — including KSTP, KARE and WCCO — cease running the advertisements, which target incumbent DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Polling so far has shown the contest between Schultz and Ellison to be one of the closest statewide races. With the candidates in a dead heat, the intensity of the campaign has increased in recent weeks, with each campaign leveling allegations of ethics and campaign rule violations. Martin told reporters the DFL would have filed the complaint whether or not the race was close.
In a statement responding to the DFL complaint, Schultz campaign spokeswoman Christine Snell dismissed the DFL's campaign finance claims as an attempt to take attention away from the issues in the race.
“Let’s be clear: This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by Keith Ellison and his far-left DFL cronies to weaponize the CFB in an effort to distract voters about Ellison’s disastrous record fighting skyrocketing violent crime and overseeing a $250 million fraud — the largest in state history,” Snell said. “Minnesotans want change, and Jim doesn’t mind the attacks from Keith Ellison’s cronies who want to preserve the status quo.”
Schultz earlier this week called for an investigation of St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson after she sent his campaign a cease-and-desist letter regarding an ad touting his police endorsement. Olson told Schultz to stop airing the ad, as it showed an officer in a uniform with "St. Paul" visible on the patch, something she said gave the appearance that the city police department had endorsed Schultz. Schultz, who has the endorsement of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer's Association, suggested Olson and DFL Mayor Melvin Carter had targeted his campaign to help Ellison.
Federal and state election laws prohibit campaigns and “independent expenditure groups” from directly coordinating their efforts in elections. Outside groups are able to take in vast sums of money compared to campaigns and spend it in support of a candidate or against an opponent so long as they abide by this rule, but there are many loopholes.
In their complaint against Schultz, the DFL argued there is a “black and white” violation of the rules. According to the complaint and ad-buy documents provided by the DFL, an individual associated with the Schultz campaign bought anti-Ellison ads on Minnesota TV stations on behalf of Minnesota for Freedom, a group associated with the national Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that spends millions on attorney general races across the U.S.
The ad buys from the RAGA-affiliated group totaled more than $847,000 on three Twin Cities area TV stations, including KSTP, KARE and WCCO, said Zoll. The complaint argues because someone involved with the Schultz campaign signed off on the independent group ads, the buys must be considered campaign contributions, which in Minnesota are capped at $2,500 — significantly below the hundreds of thousands spent.
The DFL claims it could be the biggest campaign finance law breach in Minnesota since Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign had a similar violation in 2002. That year, the Republican Party bought $800,000 in ads and mislabeled them as independent expenditures, Minnesota Public Radio reported . Pawlenty was still elected to his first term as governor but ended up paying a $100,000 fine and had his campaign spending limit cut by half a million dollars.