ROCHESTER – A complaint lodged against DFL state Sen.-elect Liz Boldon alleges that the newly elected Rochester senator failed to follow Minnesota statute when she neglected to add a disclaimer on her newspaper campaign advertisements before the election.
Last week, a member of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board made a prima facie determination that Boldon’s campaign committee did violate state statute, sending the case before the full board to decide if the case warrants a full investigation.
The complaint was filed by Diana Friemann, a Rochester resident who shared the complaint and the correspondence she received from the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board with the Post Bulletin, but declined to be interviewed for the story.
“The complaint alleges that and provides evidence that the Boldon committee prepared or disseminated campaign material that lacked the required disclaimer,” Faris Rashid, chair of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to Friemann. “The chair therefore concludes that the complaint states prima facie violation of Minnesota Statutes section 211B.04.”
Boldon, a state representative who was recently elected to represent state Senate District 25, said the failure to add a disclaimer to political advertisements that appeared in the Rochester Post Bulletin was due to “human error.” The ad appeared in the Tuesday and Saturday print editions before the midterm election.
“We should absolutely know who is funding ads in campaigns, and I fully support that process. It was human error,” Boldon said. “It was inadvertent for this one ad, but it was accidentally left off.”
The board received the complaint on Nov. 3, and the chair’s decision to advance the case before the full board was made on Nov. 18.
Megan Engelhardt, the board’s assistant executive director, declined to confirm whether a complaint against Boldon had been filed with the board. Speaking generally, complaints such as the one made against Boldon become public only after a final determination is made.
All campaign material must have a disclaimer, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board fact sheet. The universally recognized tag line usually appears at the bottom of campaign material, stating, “Prepared and paid for by the … committee.”
The legal requirement for disclaimers, experts say, is based on the idea that voters, whether the recipient of a mailer or reader of a newspaper or online political advertisement, should know who paid for it.
“The point is that when you get something in the mail, (you know) who is trying to convince me that I should do this,” Engelhardt said. “Is it the candidate? When you get an independent expenditure, you can say, ‘Oh, well, maybe I don’t like the Minnesota AFL-CIO or maybe I do.’ Maybe I’m a union member. And that means something to me. So I’m going to trust that.”
In cases where a candidate or committee fails to include a disclaimer, the board weighs several factors before deciding whether to assess a penalty. How many people saw it? Were they confused? Was it intentional? Did they self-report the violation? Penalties, generally speaking, are no higher than a $500 civil penalty.
Prima facie means “based on the first impression.” With the case before the full board, it has 45 days to decide whether probable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred and whether it warrants a formal investigation.