DFLers accused of violating campaign finance laws

Published 10:52 am Friday, August 26, 2016

ALBERT LEA — A state organization is alleging that two local DFLers have violated campaign finance laws.

The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a center-right group, is requesting a state campaign finance board investigate whether Robin Brown, a former District 27A representative, and Gary Schindler, candidate for District 27A representative, violated multiple state statutes in relation to a March 13 campaign donation.

The complaint filed Thursday with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board alleges that Schindler, who is looking to defeat incumbent District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, violated state statutes by knowingly accepting a nearly $2,900 donation from Brown’s Wedgewood Peruvian Pasos business account on March 13.

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The complaint also alleges Schindler falsely reported the contribution as being from Brown’s campaign committee, Robin Brown for Minnesota.

Brown is the owner and operator of Wedgewood Peruvian Pasos, a horse operation.

The complaint alleges that Brown and her terminated campaign committee violated the same statute by making a campaign contribution with corporate funds, then filing a false campaign finance report stating the funds came from the committee.

Joseph Brown, Robin Brown’s husband and the treasurer of her campaign committee, disputed that Robin Brown or Schindler willfully violated state statutes.

He claimed that the donation — for $2,896 — was leftover money from her unsuccessful 2010 re-election bid.

Brown, a former Iowa state senator, took responsibility for the situation, and said he should have closed the campaign account immediately after Brown decided she was not going to run for election again in 2010 or 2011.

“It would have been easier to just close that account and distribute it right away,” Brown said.

He said having the campaign account held in the same bank as the couple’s other two accounts was a mistake, and advised anyone running for office to have their campaign account kept in a separate bank from their other accounts.

Brown said the campaign committee account was removed more than two years ago, and the money moved to the business account because of their concern about check costs.

Jon Rouleau, Minnesota Jobs Coalition executive director, said the chairman of the Campaign Finance Board will determine whether the allegations have merit. If a violation is found, the board could then move toward a probable cause hearing.

In a statement released Thursday, Schindler said he was taking steps to alleviate the situation.

“On March 13 of this year, I regrettably accepted and deposited a contribution from the treasurer of Robin Brown without appreciating that it was drawn from the Brown’s business account,” Schindler said. After being alerted to this error, I immediately returned the contribution and my my next Campaign Finance Board report will reflect that disbursement back to the Browns. In addition, I have contacted the Campaign Finance Board of this oversight.”

“I look forward to returning to the issues that matter to the working families of District 27A, including reducing the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors, investing in our schools, roads and bridges, and getting the economy to work for everyone who is willing to work hard.”

Joe Brown said he plans to seek guidance from the Campaign Finance Disclosure Board on how he should proceed with the money.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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