Although Minneapolis held no primary election this year, candidates for city office still had to file “pre-primary” campaign-finance reports under a new ordinance passed this summer. Yet for two weeks after the Sept. 8 deadline, confusion and other delays kept dozens of candidate and political committee reports from reaching the public.
The city’s adoption of instant-runoff voting (IRV) did away with the separate primary election in early September, long the traditional time for pre-primary finance reports that provide the public with its first peek into candidates’ campaign coffers.
So after the state Legislature took no action to resolve the matter, the Minneapolis City Council set a primary date of Sept. 15 for the sole purpose of triggering the pre-primary financial-report requirement.
The problem: In the meantime, candidates had been told there would be no financial filings until just before the Nov. 3 general election. Notices went out from both the city and Hennepin County election offices to alert candidates to the change.
Of the nearly 100 candidates who had filed for office, about a third are not registered with the county – a requirement only once a candidate raises or spends $100 – and don’t need to file financials. Most of the rest filed pre-primary reports more or less on time.
But as of Tuesday, two weeks after the deadline, the Minnesota Independent found that the county’s online records were missing pre-primary reports for at least a dozen Minneapolis campaign committees and a dozen more political-action committees (PACs). The financial wherewithal of incumbents like City Council Vice President Robert Lillegren and Park Board President Tom Nordyke remained a mystery.
Snafus and confusion
It turned out that a technical snafu had kept some reports out of the public eye. Filings by park board commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Annie Young had been received, just not posted.
But the pre-primary deadline without an actual primary election proved a source of confusion for others.
Nordyke’s treasurer told MnIndy she’d mistakenly thought the deadline was Sept. 15, the date of the sham primary, and then tried to email her report. Veteran candidate Marcus Harcus, one of 10 challengers to Mayor R.T. Rybak, also tried the not-yet-accepted method of filing electronically.
Others filed early and potentially incomplete reports. The Becker Volunteer Committee, working to re-elect Board of Estimate and Taxation Vice President Carol Becker, promptly completed and returned a report form that the county sent as a reminder in mid-August – well before Sept. 1, the final day of the reporting period.
“The notice was somewhat confusing to me,” treasurer Ted Becker wrote in an email to MnIndy. “I did not expect any [financial] activity between August 20 and September 1. However, I was mistaken.” The report from Ward 6 council candidate Michael Tupper’s campaign also appears to have been filed prematurely.
As of Wednesday, pre-primary financial reports remained missing online for at least four city candidates: Dick Franson, who is running for mayor; Charley Underwood, a Ward 12 council candidate; David Wheeler, a Board of Estimate and Taxation candidate; and Don Samuels, the Ward 5 council incumbent. County officials were double-checking records to ensure that all documents they have received are uploaded to the Web.
Late filers can face fines of $50 per day, up to $500, beginning four days after the deadline, according to Deb Bohler of the Hennepin County. Unexpected personal emergencies usually lead to waivers, whereas chronic tardiness increases the likelihood of a fine.
Of 26 PACs registered with the county as current in Minneapolis, pre-primary reports for only 14 are posted online. All are required to file, even if their bank accounts are empty or they’ve been inactive this year.
Unlike candidates’ campaigns, PACs aren’t sent information about filing rules in the first place, so they didn’t receive notice about the newly imposed pre-primary requirement. But they can keep up to date via the county website, Bohler said.
Not interested in making that kind of statement
State law also requires candidates for office in a “metropolitan governmental unit” to reveal financial details of a more personal nature, including occupation, employer, compensation, securities held, property owned, and money owed. But two people running for election in Minneapolis have so far refused to file a “Statement of Economic Interest,” according to the city clerk’s office.
James R. Everett, a Social Entrepreneurship mayoral candidate, tells MnIndy he doesn’t trust the police and other city powers-that-be with that information. “For my safety, I’m not playing by the rules,” Everett said. Michael Cavlan, who is running as an Open Progressive candidate for city council in Ward 8, didn’t return a call from MnIndy.
Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said cities or counties can report local candidates who don’t fill out an economic-interest statement to the board, which may impose a fine of as much as $1,000. Once elected, officeholders who don’t comply risk removal from office, he said.
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