Nov 20, 2018 | By: Dennis Weimann

Former Bemidji City Council Candidate Ordered To Pay $500 Fine

Don Heinonen

A Minnesota administrative law judge has ruled that a former candidate for Bemidji City Council must pay a fine of $500 for violating a Minnesota statute that prohibits accepting a campaign contribution in excess of $600 from a committee.

Bemidji resident Robert Saxton had filed the campaign complaint against Don Heinonen on October 24th under the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Administrative Law Judge Barbara J. Case ruled on November 5th that there was probable cause in the cause, and Heinonen filed a written submission on November 7 in which he acknowledged the violation.

The violation revolved around Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 (2018), which prohibits candidates for office whose territory has a population of 100,000 or less from accepting contributions by an individual or committee in excess of $600 in an election year, and $250 in other years. The city of Bemidji has a population of less than 100,000.

In a sworn statement, Dean Thompson said that he arranged for the company Pinnacle to create the “Bemidji First” website and social media site to be used in part to promote Heinonen’s candidacy. Thompson stated further that he and three other “independent individuals” paid the $2,400 for Pinnacle’s services. The other three individuals appear to be Thompson’s spouse and another married couple.

Administrative Law Judge Barbara J. Case noted in her ruling that the definition of a “committee” appears to be broad enough to include Thompson and the three other individuals who paid for the “Bemidji First” website and social media services provided by Pinnacle. Case said. “As four persons who equally divided the cost of the expenses for establishing a website and social media site to promote Respondent’s (Heinonen’s) candidacy, they appear to have acted together to influence election of a candidate.”

Candidates are prohibited from accepting contributions in excess of the limits from individuals and committees.

Case ruled that the complainant (Saxton) had alleged sufficient facts to support finding probable cause that Respondent (Heinonen) violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting an in-kind contribution in excess of $600 from a committee.

Another complaint alleged that Heinonen had failed to identify the name and address of the contributor of an in-kind donation of $2,400. Case directed Heinonen to file with the Office of Administrative Hearings a copy of his amended campaign financial report, identifying the employer or occupation information of the four individuals who provided the $2,400 in-kind contribution at issue.

On November 6th, Heinonen filed an amended campaign finance report identifying the employer or occupation of the four persons who provided the $2,400 in-kind contribution. Because Heinonen amended his campaign report to comply with the requirements of the statute, Case dismissed this reporting violation claim against him.

Case also dismissed one other complaint against Heinonen on November 5th saying that the complainant (Saxton) had failed to allege sufficient facts to support his claim that Heinonen accepted a prohibited in-kind contribution from a corporation in violation of Minn. Stat. § 211B.15, subd. 2(b).

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