(Authored by Paul Demko and sent out in this week's edition of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter.)
In the midst of drought conditions like those currently afflicting the Minnesota political news cycle, we all must be grateful for the occasional storm. And whatever else one might say about the Pine County Republican Party, the party and its chairman, activist and former legislative candidate Rudy Takala, certainly know how to whip up a storm. The county is part of House District 11B, which is home to one of this year's more anarchic legislative races. That contest began as a pairing across party lines of two incumbents: veteran DFL Rep. Bill Hilty and freshman GOP Rep. Roger Crawford. But when Crawford announced in early June that he, like Hilty before him, was dropping out of the race (Crawford cited health reasons), area Republicans did not endorse a successor, leaving the question to be decided in an August primary between last-minute candidates Ben Weiner and Mitch Pangerl.
Then, on July 6, the Pine County GOP senta letter signed by party secretary Michael Monte to all the delegates and alternates in the district -- which includes portions of Kanabec County -- announcing that "Pine County Republicans are hosting a winner-takes-all fundraiser and mail-in endorsement." Recipients were instructed to send $10 along with their votes with the understanding that the winner would receive all the proceeds. (For the record, Pangerl received 79 percent of an undisclosed number of votes at the party's Tuesday night gathering.)
This little gambit generated a vehement reaction from some quarters, including a call from state Rep. and state GOP executive committee member Kurt Daudt (above) to Takala. Daudt confirmed to PIM earlier this week that he had given Takala an earful.
Among the problems alleged by Daudt:
• Referring to the exercise as an "endorsement" is a violation of the RPM's state constitution;
• mailing the solicitation to delegates and alternates outside of Pine County without permission constitutes a violation of the party's delegate list agreement
• soliciting money to be given to a particular candidate "violates the spirit, if not the letter" of the state's law against earmarking donations for a particular candidate.
"It's horribly bad form," Daudt told us, "and I would say it's very underhanded and just bad practice. The party should not play any part in giving money to unendorsed candidates. This [Pine County] BPOU hasn't been operating in any way to be helpful to the party. They've basically gone rogue.... I absolutely don't condone anything they're doing. I hope there's an investigation of whether any of this is illegal, and if it is, then I hope the responsible parties are held fully accountable."
For what it's worth, however, it appears that the ersatz endorsement scheme is technically not a violation of the state's law against candidate earmarking, since it proposes to give the money raised to one of two candidates, rather than to a single pre-selected candidate. So it's impossible to tell at the moment whether there is even any campaign finance violation involved, though Daudt's comments suggest there could be sanctions for breaking party rules.
Takala, for his part, said afterward that the CD 8 GOP's decision not to endorse anyone in the 11B race "makes lot of folks feel disenfranchised since they thought that by becoming delegates they would get to endorse a candidate. So we are going to honor the endorsement they bestowed on Mitch Pangerl using our process."