ST. PAUL — The Goodhue County Republican Party of Minnesota has been fined $1,000 by a state campaign finance board for illegally accepting an earmarked contribution.
At issue is $1,000 given to the party by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, to support efforts to get Red Wing Republican Mike Goggin elected to the Senate. Shortly after getting the check, the Goodhue County Republicans gave it to Goggin's election campaign, according to Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board documents.
In an interview, Goodhue County Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Merle Larson took responsibility for the error.
"It was pure ignorance on my part. I did not know the rules on earmarking and so this is what happened," Larson said.
During an investigation, the board found that on Aug. 25, 2016, Osmek called Goggin to tell him he wanted to make a contribution to a local party unit to help defeat the Red Wing Republican's rival — DFL Sen. Matt Schmit. Goggin talked to Larson about the donation. Goggin then called Osmek and suggested he send the check to Larson. A $1,000 check from the David Osmek Volunteer Committee made out to the Goodhue County Republican Party of Minnesota was sent to Larson's home.
After receiving the contribution, Larson sent an email to the party's treasurer telling him that the contribution came "with the expressed request that this donation be sent to the Mike Goggin for Senate Committee." The check was deposited on Aug. 30, 2016 and party's treasurer issued a check to the Goggin committee in the same amount two days later. The memo on the check said, "BEAT MATT SCHMIT!"
Larson said it was that memo on the check that made him believe the money was to be directed to Goggin and that no one explicitly told him to do it.
The Goggin campaign later returned $625 of the contribution out of concern the campaign had already received the maximum amount of money allowed from the local party. The party then sent that money back to Osmek's campaign.
The board found that, "the record establishes by a preponderance of evidence that the Goodhue RPM accepted the Osmek committee's contribution with the condition that it was used to defeat Goggin's opponent, and, thus, to help get Goggin elected." The board concluded that violated the state's ban on accepting earmarked contributions. However, the board determined there was insufficient evidence that the individuals involved were intentionally seeking to circumvent state law.
"Osmek's testimony was clear that he did not intend or expect to exert any control over the means by which the party unit used the money to influence the Goggin-Schmit election," a board report says.
Goggin went on to win the November 2016 election, defeating Schmit. Osmek is currently running for governor. He declined to comment.
The board ordered that the local party return the remaining $375 received from the Osmek committee. It must also pay a civil penalty of $1,000 within 60 days.
"It was unfortunate, and I feel terrible about it, but we'll pay the fine and move on," Larson said.