Tony Sutton cartoon by Avidor
by Steve Timmer
Nov 23, 2012, 4:00 PM

Tony Sutton: the gift that keeps on giving

This item didn’t get much attention because it was issued right around the time of the election. But it is important and interesting fallout from Tony Sutton’s time at the helm of the MNGOP. The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board issued findings, dated October 2, 2012 (but released on November 7th), on its investigation into the consulting relationship between the MNGOP and Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville. Thompson was re-elected for a second term earlier this month.

When Sutton was forced to resign as party chair, a group of activists formed a committee to look into what happened; it conducted a review (not an audit, which would have been impossible for reasons that will become obvious as you read on) and issued a report on May 7, 2012. After the Report of the Republican Party of Minnesota Budget, Financial Controls and Oversight Committee was issued, Common Cause of Minnesota filed a complaint with the CFPDB. Actually, it filed a couple of complaints, one of which resulted in the $27,000 fine to the party (Tony Sutton and the then party treasurer were also fined $3,000 each) that the MNGOP is dealing with on the lay-away plan. (How’s that coming, anyway, Pat?) This fine resulted from the fact that the party did not disclose and report as debt some $600,000 in attorneys’ fees for the Emmer recount.

That is not what the findings at the link are about.

One of the other things disclosed in the oversight committee’s review was that Sen. Dave Thompson received about $70,000 in “consulting fees” for services claimed to have been rendered by Thompson in 2009 and 2010.

While apparently not raised directly in the CCM complaint, it did prompt some questions over at the CFPDB: 1) did Senator Thompson actually do work pursuant to the contracts or was it a gift or inducement to get him to run for office, and 2) were the services performed by Thompson in-kind contributions to state-level candidates, and if so, what was the value of these services to each candidate?

The Board’s conclusion? Based on the MNGOP’s record keeping, it is impossible to tell. Both the MNGOP and Sen. Thompson were given the opportunity to explain and justify the situation but did or could not.

Complicating matters is the fact that the claimed work was performed by Thompson for both federal and state candidates. But according to the Board, records and worksheets do not exist that would permit any kind of judgment about whether services were actually performed or how an allocation could be made between the federal and state MNGOP organizations (there are two, and you can get a really a good description of their relationship at the link to the findings).

This is, of course, a problem, not only for regulators and law enforcement, but also for members and contributors to the MNGOP. Well, and to anybody else concerned about what the MNGOP was buying with its money — if, indeed, anything. Among those who might be concerned are probably the fifteen counties, four law firms, a printing company and a couple of PR firms that the MNGOP stiffed in 2010 (scroll down to the very last page of the fourth restatement of the 2010 report to the CFB dated July 25, 2012).

But Tony Sutton was able to find the money to pay Dave.

Here is what the Campaign Finance Board concluded:

1. There is probable cause to believe that some portion of the contracted services provided by Senator Thompson in 2009 and 2010 were of benefit to the Republican State Committee.

2. There is probable cause to believe that some portion of the payments made to Senator Thompson under the terms of the 2009 and 2010 consulting contracts were reportable by the Republican State Committee but were omitted from the relevant reports in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 10A.20, subdivision 3 (g).

3. There is probable cause to believe that the candidate trainings provided by the Republican State Committee under the terms of the consulting contracts with Senator Thompson were reportable in-kind donations to the state candidate committees in attendance.

4. There is probable cause to believe that the in-kind donation of candidate trainings were not reported by the Republican State Committee in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 10A.20, subdivision 3 (k).

5. There is probable cause to believe that records do not exist that will allow the Republican Party State Committee to accurately amend its reports as provided in Minnesota Statutes section 10A.025, subdivision 4, to disclose payments to Senator Thompson for contracted services, or to report candidate training sessions as in-kind donations to the candidates in attendance.

This, for example, is why, Joe Repya, an audit of the MNGOP for the Sutton years can never be conducted. Massive criminality, or just sloppiness? Only God and Tony know for sure.

Update: An unsigned copy of the findings was attached to the October CFPDB minutes. The author regrets the error.

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