Updated: Pam Wolf Calls Fine in Flier Flap "Unbelievably Petty"
Administrative law judges ruled publicly funded handouts at precinct caucuses were campaign literature.
UPDATE (Thursday): State Sen. Pam Wolf, who represents part of Fridley, called a recent judgement against her and 10 other state senators that will cost them $75 each in fines "unbelievably petty."
The penalities are for distributing fliers printed at public expense at precinct caucuses last February that a panel of administrative law judges determined Aug. 31 constituted campaign literature. (Click on first PDF thumbnail to read the ruling.)
"The irony of the whole thing is—Murphy's Law—I never ever, ever would use [literature created by the GOP caucus]," said Wolf. But this once, she did.
'Worst Piece of Campaign Lit'
Wolf said she told the judges that if the flier that she had set down in one stack on a table at the local Republican precinct caucus was campaign literature, it is "the worst piece of campaign literature I've ever seen in my whole life." The flier carries the logo and web links for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus(See another senator's version posted by Minnesota Public Radio.)
Besides, Wolf said she testified, she wouldn't be much of a Republican candidate "if I have to influence people at the Republican [precinct] caucus." The fact that the flier went to local Republicans attending their precinct caucus rather than all of Wolf's constituents was one factor in the panel's detemination it was not constituent communication.
Before the fliers were handed out, non-partisan Senate legal counsel reviewed and approved them, according to Steve Sviggum, the former Speaker of the Minnesota House who now works in communications for Republicans in the Senate Majority. (Click on the second PDF thumbnail for a Senate legal counsel email telling GOP leaders the material was not a violation of law.)
“It was not campaign material,” Sviggum said. “The complaint was wrong—and the ruling was wrong and inappropriate. It changes the standard of what constituent material and campaign material is. … This will put a chill on delivery of information to communicate with constituents.
“Sometimes you just have to rise above, pay the $75 fine and move on,” Sviggum said. “If it was a serious violation, the fine would have been thousands of dollars. This is a slap on the wrist.”
Wolf reluctantly agreed with Sviggum about moving on.
"I'd love to dig in and argue this," said Wolf. She said negotiations among lawyers determined that she would be one of three senators to testify in the case. Four of the original 15 senators involved weren't penalized because they didn't actually distribute their fliers, she said.
ORIGINAL POST (Wednesday): State Sen. Pam Wolf, who represents part of Fridley, is one of 11 Republican senators facing fines of $75 after a three-judge administrative law panel ruled that their precinct-caucus fliers constituted campaign literature, not constituent communication.
The DFL Party filed a complaint in February that the handouts, produced at state expense, contained political campaign content. Minnesota Public Radio, citing the Senate Republican Caucus, reported that Wolf had distributed 300 handbills, of a total of 4,725 that all 15 senators distributed.
The DFL's complaint named 12 senators, and the Aug. 31, 2012 ruling from the state Office of Administrative Hearings leveled fines against a different list of 11 senators (see PDF). According to the panel's order, Wolf was one of three senators to testify in the case. Wolf didn't immediately respond to email messages Wednesday. Look for an update here with any comment from her. (See Update above for Wolf's response.)
Redistricting following the 2010 U.S. Census redrew local senate district boundaries, meaning that Wolf, if she is re-elected in November, will no longer represent Fridley when the new Legislature convenes in January.
'Cold Water' and 'Laundry List of Lies'
"This ruling really poured some cold water on constituent services," GOP communications coordinator Steve Sviggum, who was fined $200 for his role in producing the fliers, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "It almost puts ever constituent piece we put together, not just for Republicans but Democrats as well, under scrutiny."
Ken Martin, DFL Party chair, commented in a statement from the party:
"The conclusion by the court affirms what we have been saying since February: the Senate Republican Caucus broke the law when they decided to use our tax dollars to print partisan campaign literature. ... The laundry list of lies, scandals and illegal activities the Republicans have brought to the Capitol in the last year alone is appalling. That the taxpayers should have to foot the bill for all of it is even worse."