Julianne Ortman | MinnPost photo
by Steve Timmer
Dec 21, 2014, 11:00 AM

Hit ’em where it hurts

It is reported in the Strib that the DFL thinks an ethics complaint ought to be filed in the Minnesota Senate against Julianne Ortman because of the offers of money by her campaign manager — one of which was accepted — to two other candidates, also seeking the endorsement for the U.S. Senate at the Republican convention this spring, to endorse Sen. Ortman.

“Sen. Ortman admits to a wrongdoing that brings dishonor to the Senate,” [party chair Ken] Martin said. “She should be held accountable by her colleagues.”

Frankly, this is a waste of time. It will end in a 2 – 2 deadlocked vote. If Geoff “the Deputy” Michel cannot be censured for lying to the press when the proof lay within the four corners of the complaint against him, this one is a nonstarter.

Not that I think serious violations of law ought to be ignored; it’s just there are much better places to bring them up.

But before I talk about that, though, we need to stop a moment and thank Michael Brodkorb for his dogged reporting of this story. I’ve always thought that Michael had a great bullshit detector, and it must have gone off at several points along the way in digging out the story of the Ortman campaign.

As Michael first reported last month, the campaign manager for the Ortman campaign, Andy Parrish, offered on behalf of the campaign to pay campaign debts of two other candidates for the U.S. Senate, Monti Moreno and Phillip Parrish (no relation to Andy Parrish), in exchange for their endorsement of Ortman. Phillip Parrish refused the offer (but did ultimately endorse Ortman). Moreno accepted the offer and went back onto the convention floor to endorse Ortman. Ortman was cagey about when she learned about the offers, but said that she did know about them in the summer of last year, denying that Andy Parrish had the authority to make them.

Parrish may or may not not have had actual authority to make these offers, but he certainly had apparent authority to speak on behalf of the campaign on the convention floor, where the offers were made.

Parenthetically, Michael Brodkorb noted another matter concerning the Ortman campaign in his Community Voices blog post at the Strib linked above. It had about $130,000 unaccounted for in reports to the Federal Elections Commission. I misplaced a twenty once, and I still remember it; I frankly cannot fathom how you lose $130,000 in reports to the regulators at the FEC.

Moreno obviously thought he had a deal with the Ortman campaign for, as he says, up to $5,000. He couldn’t get in touch with Andy Parrish in the days after the convention, so he drove from Marine-on-St. Croix to Chaska to the campaign office. Moreno couldn’t find him there, but he tracked Parrish down lunching at a nearby restaurant, where he berated Parrish for failure to make the promised payment.

If you don’t find this restaurant confrontation with the beefy Moreno and the diminutive Parrish funny, you just aren’t paying attention. Anyway, Parrish went back to the campaign office and wrote Moreno a check for $400, a down payment, as it were. Remember, this would have been in June of 2014. Moreno continued to pester Parrish, the campaign, and Ortman herself about the balance.

In November, at the time of the Brodkorb story linked above, the campaign still wasn’t saying whether it paid Monti Moreno $400, and since Moreno had never filed a campaign finance report, you couldn’t tell it from him, either. The payment was apparently not included in Ortman’s reports to the FEC during this time. And remember, the Ortman campaign was furiously amending reports to the FEC during that period, trying to explain what happened to $130,000, so it had plenty of opportunity to tell the regulators about the payment to Moreno.

Finally, after some truly epic foot dragging by the campaign, Michael Brodkorb is able to report on December 16th that the Ortman campaign admits it paid Monti Moreno $400. Now, Julianne, was that so hard? Apparently it was, because she hauled out our old friend the passive “mistakes were made” voice to do it:

In response to new questions about the payment to Moreno, Ortman wrote tonight the “check was not authorized by me or by the campaign.” Ortman added that “the matter has been referred to [a Federal Election Commission] Compliance expert.”

So, the matter is in the hands of a compliance expert, who in this context probably means the “lawyers,” and who are undoubtedly trying to buff this sucker up a little before turning it in the the FEC.

But my friends, that’s just the ice cream, banana slices, and chopped nuts. Here’s the whipped cream and cherries on top:

John Gilmore, a Republican associated with Andy Parrish (he represented Andy a couple of years ago), was hired by the Ortman campaign in some kind of strategy/communication role. Gilmore says he was retained by the Ortman campaign; he was in the Ortman campaign suite during the convention. He’s a Minnesota resident who provided services to a Minnesota campaign.

Gilmore doesn’t appear anywhere in the campaign finance reports as an expenditure. Was ist das? says Michael Brodkorb. Maybe he used another language; I don’t know. But the hound dog Michael Brodkorb finally teases it out in a series of tweets:

Peter Waldron is the guy who wrote an ebook with John Gilmore about Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa that starred, you will never guess, Andy Parrish. But by July of 2014, Boat to Forever Productions looked like a boat to nowhere, and not an operating business.

We could speculate about why a payment was made to a Florida company, apparently for Minnesota resident Gilmore’s Minnesota-rendered services, but I won’t. But I do think that calling those services “Promotional Books” was a subterfuge by the Ortman campaign, and a misleading, if not downright fraudulent, description on a report to the FEC.

So a thousand words later, we’re back to what to do. Rather than filing a doomed Senate ethics report, somebody ought do these two things:

1) Take all of Michael Brodkorb’s reporting on this — you can download it from the Strib — and staple it to a complaint filed in Minnesota’s Office of Administrative Hearings. You just made your prima facie case. Name Julianne Ortman, Andy Parrish, Monti Moreno, and the persons operating as the treasurers of the Ortman campaign as respondents. Ask Phillip Parrish (still no relation to Andy Parrish) to come and testify about the offer made to him; he’s not a proper respondent, since the record is clear he refused any payment, and you probably won’t be able to squeeze a subpoena out of the OAH to compel his testimony, but maybe he’ll come voluntarily.

Then, when you get everybody in the same room, you ask them all, under oath, who knew about or authorized Andy Parrish to offer payments of money to Moreno and Phillip Parrish in exchange for endorsements. Essentially, ask the famous “what did you know and when did you know it” question. These offers were, in my estimation, clearly quid pro quo bribes under Minn. Stat. sec. 211B.13 (2014). And you ask Moreno and Phillip Parrish to confirm the offers from Andy Parrish, and Moreno to confirm the payment from him.

Incidentally, even though this was a federal campaign, the campaign practices provisions of Minnesota law, found in chapter 211B, are fully applicable.

2) Take the information in the tweets embedded above, get a copy of the Boat to Forever Productions company formation and dissolution from the State of Florida, and complain to the FEC that the Ortman campaign misled the FEC and the public in its description of the purpose and the true payee of the $6,000 payment.

This little gambit reminds me of a state case a few years ago involving another southwest metro legislator: Ernie Leidiger. Leidiger was tagged for speeding but his campaign called the fine a “transportation” expense in his campaign finance reports, and expensed it as a genuine campaign expense. The campaign was fined.

It should be clear to even the casual observer that the Ortman campaign was badly, and almost certainly unlawfully, run. That reflects badly on everyone associated with it, including the candidate herself, Julianne Ortman.

Addendum: I should have mentioned that the information in #1 above could — should, really — also be included in the complaint to the FEC. The FEC has jurisdiction over campaign practices as well as campaign reporting.

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