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Outside group spends big on council candidates

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Two candidates for Rochester City Council have received in-kind support from a Chicago-based, pro-business political action committee.

In a report filed Tuesday with the city of Rochester, the National Association of Realtors Fund reported significant spending to print and send mailers and coordinate phone calls to voters in support of Randy Staver and Scott Hoss. The expenses were dated Oct. 13 in the report. Staver is the incumbent city council president; Hoss is running for the Ward 2 seat.

Contacted Tuesday, both Staver and Hoss said they were unaware the Realtors group had spent money to support their campaigns.

"It is completely catching me unaware," said Staver, who running for re-election against challenger Sean Allen.

The campaign financial report shows the Realtors fund had spent $16,184 to support Staver's campaign. The disbursements were described as consisting of "mailers and phone calls supporting Staver," and "consulting and data supporting Staver."

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The Realtors report also listed $13,810 in spending to support Hoss's campaign. That included mailers, phone calls, consulting and data supporting Hoss.

"This is the first I have heard of it," said Hoss, a Ward 2 candidate who is challenging incumbent council member Michael Wojcik.

Hoss is employed as a Realtor. He said he is a member of Realtor associations, but did not think he was a member of the National Association of Realtors and he had had no communication with the National Association of Realtors Fund.

The campaign financial report was filed by John Pierpoint , National Association of Realtors senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer based in Chicago.

National Association of Realtors spokesman Jon Boughtin sent the following statement to the Post Bulletin:

"The National Association of Realtors supports candidates at the request of state and local associations. We depend on those associations to identify candidates who strongly support homeownership. Every state and community has its own unique concerns, and NAR's investment is a good example of the relationship between NAR and our state and local association partners."

The National Association of Realtors is headquartered in Chicago and is the nation's largest trade association with more than 1.1 million members, according to the association's website .

The Southeast Minnesota Association of Realtors is a member of the National Association of Realtors. CEO Karen Becker on Wednesday said SEMAR had identified Staver and Hoss for support through a survey sent to candidates in the association's 11-county area. Staver's and Hoss's opponents did not return the survey, Becker said.

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"After those (surveys) came in we really felt Randy Staver and Scott Hoss would do the best job to protect property rights and encourage growth in Rochester," Becker said.

The National Association of Realtors in 2014 reported to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board a total of $195,639 in expenditures on four state Legislature candidates: Jim Knoblach in House District 14B; Ryan Rutzick in House District 44B; Kirk Stensrud in House District 48A; and Stacey Stout in House District 43A.

The association's most recent report, filed Sept. 20, showed no expenditures on state candidates yet this year.

Rochester City Clerk Aaron Reeves said the report was the first of its kind he has seen filed with the city. Reeves contacted the Minnesota Secretary of State Office to seek guidance.

Reeves said he was told by the state office that such independent groups do not typically file campaign financial reports, but if the group was willing to do so, the city could process and publish the report.

A member of the Realtors fund had contacted Reeves on Monday to ask if the city would process the report, and Reeves said it would.

"I did verify with them that they weren't working with the candidates, they weren't coordinating, and they said, 'No, we're doing it on our own,'" Reeves said.

The contributions would not appear on individual candidate campaign finance statements because the spending was not associated with the candidate, a candidate's campaign, or a committee associated with a candidate. It is independent spending by a third-party organization, Reeves said.

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The amounts spent by the Realtors fund on the Rochester races is large in comparison to spending previously reported by the candidates' campaigns.

In its last campaign report, dated Aug. 2, the Staver campaign reported $9,697 in cash on hand and $2,978 in disbursements from March 1 through Aug. 2.

The Hoss campaign's most recent report, filed July 29, showed $11,391 in cash on hand and $5,444 in disbursements from May 18 through July 29.

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