Friday, January 20, 2012

Time For A MN GOP Audit & Investigation

With the amazing story published today by MPR reporters Tom Scheck & Catharine Richart on the state of the Republican Party of Minnesota, particularly with respect to vendors and outrageous payments, the time has finally come for a full audit of the party's books and an investigation into related issues. Readers can find the MPR story by clicking here; follow them on Twitter at @tomscheck and @catrichart

Much of the information detailed in that reporting was previously known by MC and other activists. Some of it was new in its detail, causing no small amount of heart burn. Some issues were not mentioned at all, though this provides cold comfort to those who are aware of them. It's only a matter of time before they become known. Curiously, it doesn't appear to have occurred to "leadership" (however one wants to define that term) to get ahead of the story. There seems to be little appetite for accountability and, instead, a desire to distract by focusing on this election year. The irony is that this election year shouldn't serve as a distraction from reluctance to clean up the mess currently on our hands but, rather, be the focus outright and cleanly.

Instead of greater transparency, the base is treated to more of the same that got us into current difficulties. The perfunctory "examination" of the books by yet another committee appointed by the state executive committee was wholly inadequate. Why? MC friend and ally Jeff Johnson (full disclosure: whom MC supported as RNC committeeman) has suggested that an audit would necessarily take much needed money away from the upcoming elections. He's right, of course, but by now MC feels there isn't really much choice. The failure to take stock of matters only compounds donors' reluctance to give to the party. Until there is transparency and accountability, MC is certain contributions will remain anemic. It should not be thus. Pretending otherwise only delays the day when healthy contributions flow to the party.

MC has a number of observations:

1. Review the time sheets and invoices of Tony Trimble.

How on earth could the party have paid the man who cost Norm Coleman his senate seat over a million dollars? He must have video and not still photos for that kind of money. MC suggests lawyers from the base review all records and report to the party their findings. There may well be nothing that can be done about the excessive payments but surely there are lessons to be learned.

One such lesson is immediately apparent: who dishes out the legal work for the party? Who is the attorney of record for the RPM currently and how did they get the job? Does the party put out RFP's to get the best legal work for its dollar? What was done for more than $66K in 2011 alone? A demand for a refund should be considered.

2. Strother Communications/John Aanestad

It takes MPR to bring to the attention of (some of) the base this quarter-million dollar plus boondoggle? Could current leadership bother itself enough to determine what, precisely, was purchased by this outlay? MC doubts they'll find anything of substance or value. As an assist to them, the next question should be: why the outlay? Neither Strother nor Aanestad could speak to MPR, they said, because of confidentiality agreements with the party. Really? Who has seen them? Why not release them for full disclosure? The passivity of the party into looking into this and other troublesome areas is disturbing.

3. Sen. Dave Thompson's $70,000 No Show Job

Who on earth would pay Thompson seventy grand for communications consulting? Where is the evidence of his work? Can the party be bothered to look into this or should we let MPR do the heavy lifting? Again, let's see the invoices, the time sheets, the alleged work product. If anyone in the party is asking these questions, let alone actually getting results, MC and many others are unaware of it. In the absence of that, one can assume they are not. This is unacceptable. The focus should not be, unlike in the MPR story, a possible conflict of interest. The focus should be why Thompson, amongst so many other worthier choices, was selected and the concrete product obtained.

4. "And it stoned me:" medical marijuana

Really? The party spent $10,500 for a firm to look into the efficacy of medical marijuana? It's called Google and it's, you know, free. Somewhere Dusty Trice must be smiling.

What's odd about this expenditure is that Tony Sutton referred questions about it to former executive director Ryan Griffin, who declined comment. Should we assume Griffin had the power to enter into contracts? This doesn't seem right. If Sutton signed off on the contract, why the redirection to Griffin?

Is anyone in the party looking into this? Not that MC knows of, which is all of a piece.

5. New Leadership: Failure to launch

Stunningly, new RPM Chair Pat Shortridge was quoted in the MPR story as not much interested in looking into the problems brought to light. He claimed that most of the party (how would he know, given his recent arrival and reputation for not returning executive committee members' phone calls?) wanted to "drive ahead" and not "look in the review mirror."

Does he really think he was elected to avoid examining the dire circumstances of the party and the conditions that gave rise to them? Is he unaware of how jarring his blithe brush off was coming at the end of a litany of financial horrors?

His recent appointments to "leadership" (that word again) committees was widely panned in the activist and base communities which, in turn, was met with a request to shut up. Lovely. But if the idea of staffing what is essentially a diversity and outreach committee with four white males is thought of as competent, it's going to be a long year. Add to that the very recent appointment as secretary/treasurer a guy most in the base had never heard of but who is a business associate of a well known "liberty" activist who hopes to go to DC when their failed gubernatorial candidate wins election as a congressman from the sixth district.

On balance, the new chair is seen as pandering to the repulsive Ron Paul elements in the party, if he's not owned outright by them. He's lost an enormous amount of goodwill from the 70% of the state central delegates who elected him. It's uncertain whether he knows or cares about this. But he's in for a rude awakening if he thinks the base won't demand getting to the bottom of the problems set out in the Scheck/Richart article. Quaint as it might sound, it's their party.

The new deputy chair is kept busy with generating emails reporting about the winter meeting of the RNC and offering to run around the state talking to BPOU's. Well yes, that should certainly guarantee the republican majorities in the house and senate come this fall. Fortunately, no one ever believed that the party helped win the majority in the senate and preserve the majority in the house in 2010. No one MC knows is counting on things being different this time around.

Does the chair have the same signing authority as the previous one? Is any system in place new and different from that which didn't work out so well for us previously?

6. State Executive Committee Culpability

MC is alternatingly amused and appalled by pious public comments from members of the executive committee to the effect that they were shocked, shocked by gambling going on under their nose. They can't have it both ways and if there were any decency the committee en masse would have offered to resign given their failure of oversight. Instead, we're treated to comments that suggest some were hot on the trail of malfeasance. Right. They have an enormous amount to account for but with the rear view window being eschewed, it's doubtful this will happen. At least not now. Instead, MC expects that, CD by CD, current members will be replaced as the year unfolds. A reform slate needs to be run in each district to take back the party. More on this another time.


A full audit of the party should be commenced at once. An investigative committee drawn from each of the eight congressional districts should be empaneled (two from each district, elected at regular meetings of the CD's, not appointed by CD chairs) to explore what the executive committee knew, when they knew it and what they did or did not do. It would also monitor the audit process to make sure uncomfortable questions are not avoided.

MC hopes that the audit happens; it doesn't expect "leadership" to do anything by which it will be held accountable to the base by way of an investigative committee at this time. Fortunately, there are other upcoming opportunities which, by degrees, will allow that which needs to be done, despite the best efforts of those currently in charge, to actually be done.