Nov 5, 2018 | By: Dennis Weimann

Judge Rules In Bemidji City Council Campaign Finance Complaint

A Minnesota administrative law judge has ruled that there is probable cause that a candidate for Bemidji City Council violated 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.

Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 (2018) 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 his sworn statement, Dean Thompson maintained 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. 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) has 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. This claim will proceed to an evidentiary hearing.

Another complaint alleged that Heinonen had failed to identify the name and address of the contributor of a in-kind donation of $2,400. Administrative Law Judge 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. Upon filing the amended campaign financial report with the required employment information, this claim will be dismissed.

Case also dismissed one other complaint against Heinonen saying that the complainant (Saxton) has 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).

Don Heinonen declined to comment to Lakeland News for this story.

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