Senate candidate’s staffing plan to ‘keep Minnesota Blue’ sparks GOP complaint

A well-known DFL state Senate candidate’s plan to hire campaign aides to help Democrats win a majority in the upper chamber has sparked a GOP complaint with Minnesota’s election watchdog agency.

Minnesota Senate Republicans on Tuesday filed a complaint asking the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to investigate and “immediately shut down” Democrat Erin Murphy’s staffing plan over concerns that it violates campaign spending laws.

Murphy, a former House majority leader and gubernatorial candidate, is running to succeed retiring DFL Sen. Dick Cohen in St. Paul. She recently posted several openings for campaign organizers on behalf of her Senate campaign.

“Through the 2020 General Election, Erin Murphy for State Senate will be working to keep Minnesota blue in statewide races, and to help create a State Senate majority that can take action on the urgent issues facing our state,” a job description reads. “To do so, the campaign is building a strong relational organizing program that will work to increase turnout across CD 4, recruit SD 64 volunteers to call Minnesotans across the state, and mobilize Erin’s past base to support candidates in contested Senate races.”

In a letter to the campaign finance board, Senate Republicans argue that asking paid staff to support candidates in other targeted races constitutes an independent expenditure on behalf of those campaigns. Election law prohibits candidates who accept the state’s public subsidy agreement, as Murphy did, from making it such expenditures.

“Everyone has to play by the same rules and a person with Erin Murphy’s background in politics should really know better,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement. “The Campaign Finance Board needs to shut this illegal activity down immediately.”

Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The campaign finance board does not confirm receipt of complaints, Executive Director Jeff Sigurdson said. Without commenting on the specific allegations, Sigurdson confirmed that paid staff work to benefit another campaign would generally qualify as either an in-kind contribution or, if the receiving candidate was not aware of the aid, an independent expenditure. In addition to the independent expenditure restrictions, state law bans candidate campaign accounts from making direct or in-kind contributions to other candidates unless they are terminating their committees.

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