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State board: Goodhue Republicans improperly earmarked campaign funds for Goggin campaign

A local Republican Party chapter must pay a fine after state campaign finance officials determined the group funneled contributions into Sen. Mike Goggin's campaign.

Goodhue County Republican Party of Minnesota donated $1,000 to Goggin's campaign committee after receiving a check for the same amount from Sen. David Osmek with a memo instructing to "BEAT MATT SCHMIT!," according to findings the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board released earlier this week.

The memo referred to the District 21 incumbent whom Goggin defeated in 2016.

Although Minnesota allows donors to request uses for their contributions, state law prohibits parties from accepting contributions directed toward a particular candidate.

The board launched an investigation in June 2017 after Board Director Jeff Sigmundson raised earmarking concerns over cash flow among the party and the senators' campaign committees.

An annual review the board conducted in April uncovered discrepancies between contributions the party reported donating to Osmek's and Goggin's campaigns versus those the candidates reported receiving.

According to the findings, the party reported receiving $625 from Goggin, who did not report the amount, as well as contributing $1,800 to the Goggin campaign after the new senator reported a slightly lower dollar amount.

Osmek, according to the finding, reported donating hundreds of dollars less than the amount the party reported receiving from Osmek's committee.

Party Treasurer Jeff Hommedahl attributed the inconsistent amounts to several refunds from the transactions, according to the findings.

During sworn interviews by the board, Osmek said he contacted Goggin in August 2016 to ask which group would take donations to help Goggin defeat Schmit. Goggin, the findings state, directed Osmek to the Goodhue County party chapter.

Days later, Party Chair Merle Larson reportedly gave Osmek's check to Hommedahl to deposit, advising that the check arrived with the "expressed request that this donation should be sent on to the Mike Goggin for Senate Committee."

A treasurer's report Hommedahl filed in 2016, the findings state, confirmed the party's knowledge of this request.

The report went on to describe a $625 refund from Goggin's committee, citing contribution limits, and proposed returning the same amount to Osmek's committee.

Osmek, who announced his gubernatorial bid in August, told the board he intended his donation to bolster Schmit's opponent, but did not try to control how the party used the funds.

The board concluded the party, rather than Osmek, designated the funds for Goggin's campaign and declined to fine or cite Osmek.

"Senators Osmek and Goggin tried to illegally influence the election, got caught, and now the local Republican party has to pay for it," said Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin. "The law is clear: Earmarking political donations is illegal. Minnesotans deserve better than colluding politicians who circumvent the law to get ahead."

The Goodhue party must now pay a $1,000 fine and return the remaining $375 from Osmek's original contribution.

A representative with the Senate Republican Caucus told the Republican Eagle neither senator would comment on the findings.

The party did not return requests for comment by press time Friday.