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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Minneapolis mayor guilty of forging Green endorsement

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has been found guilty of claiming that Green Party City Council Member Cam Gordon endorsed him, before receiving written permission.

"The Fifth Congressional District Green Party never endorsed R.T. Rybak. On the police chief, the stadium, the garbage burner, and the library power grab, he is just an awful, awful candidate," said Tom Cleland of the Fifth Congressional District Green Party Steering Committee. “Now Rybak has been shown as a lawbreaker.”

StarTribune article:
Panel finds violation, orders Rybak's campaign to pay $250
By STEVE BRANDT, Star Tribune
Last update: July 31, 2009 - 10:50 PM


At Sat Aug 01, 05:46:00 PM CDT, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

On-the-record statement issued by David Bicking to reporter Steve Brandt:

Hi Steve,

Sorry not sooner - too many phone calls. The OAH final order is attached.

I am glad to see this resolved with a clear statement that the law was broken. That accomplishes one of my objectives in filing the Complaint: the law needs to be enforced, and all campaigns should follow it, as many do.

Another objective, determining the truth behind the statements of Council Member Gordon and the Rybak campaign, has also largely been met. From my interpretation of the testimony, it is clear that Cam Gordon, while supportive, was not willing to make a public endorsement of the Rybak campaign until the Green Party at least had a chance to screen and endorse a candidate of their own. He says this in several emails entered into evidence, and he said it in front of numerous witnesses at meetings of the Green Party.

By contrast, the Rybak campaign bases its contention on unspecified conversations in 2008, with no independent witnesses, and with no confirmation in emails or any written notes. They say themselves that they do not consider attendance at a fundraiser, or even the co-hosting of a fundraiser, to constitute an endorsement. If they had any desire to test or confirm their "assumption" that Gordon was willing to be listed, all they had to do was take the very simple, easy, AND LEGAL step of asking for written permission. They did not do that, and I think it is clear that Gordon would not have given written permission prior to May 9.

Therefore, if they had followed the law, the literature could not have listed Council Member Gordon, and it could not have prominently featured what they called the "historic" endorsement of all 13 City Council members. Unlike the Administrative Law Judges, I believe that had real consequences.

While a victory in this case is welcome and important, it is nevertheless disappointing that the fine was far too small to have any deterrent effect on this campaign or any other large campaign. The Rybak campaign admitted not just this violation, but a history and pattern of similar violations over many years. They never stated that they intended to follow the law in the future.

The procedure for enforcing the Unfair Campaign Practices laws, ever since 2004, has required a private party to undertake the burdensome effort of filing and following through on a Complaint. It is a very rare step by anyone other than an opposing candidate, even though the law is meant to protect the public at large from fraud and deception, not just protect an opposing candidate. If the law is to mean anything, the Office of Administrative Hearings must impose stiffer penalties in proven cases of repeated, deliberate violations. Otherwise, potential Complainants will rightly perceive that filing a Complaint is not worth the effort, and the laws will remain unenforced and useless.

I have learned a lot through this process. Some of the testimony was unintentionally very revealing. For example, Peter Wagenius discusses the quid pro quo between Gordon and the Mayor: Rybak would push for DFL support for Gordon, and Gordon would discourage the Green Party from running a candidate against the mayor. (Note that that is Wagenius' interpretation, not necessarily Gordon's.) That is the kind of back-room dealing that leads to fewer choices for voters.

At Sat Aug 01, 05:47:00 PM CDT, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

Bicking statement part 2 of 2:

There is still the possibility of an appeal of the penalty and I don't want to rule out the possibility of further action. But personally, I have a campaign of my own that I must concentrate on, and I don't plan to put much more time into this. I am happy, however, to talk to anyone interested in the case or its implications. Others may take up further publicity of the results, and there is a possibility that other mayoral candidates in particular may have more to say about this.

Or maybe, gubernatorial candidates will be interested. I'm sure you have heard that Mayor Rybak told a group of DFLers in Eagan last night that he is "very likely to run" for governor in 2010. I was surprised not to find that on the StarTribune website. Rybak's regular flouting of campaign laws and the kind of power politics that were revealed during this case may be of interest in both races.

Thank you for your continuing interest. I will be happy to talk to you once you have read the attached ruling.

Dave Bicking


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