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GOP promises to repay counties' recount costs

ST. PAUL -- Republicans say they are paying what they owe Minnesota counties for information from last fall's governor election recount.

"We have about 20 counties left to go," GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said. "We have been chipping away on them."

Sutton estimated that the party could finish paying its recount bills within four weeks. He said about $20,000 remains to be paid.

"It is about managing all the bills we have," Sutton said.

The chairman answered questions about the issue Monday following a letter Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, sent to Republican legislative colleagues suggesting they contribute to pay the bills, although in an interview he thought just $3,000 to $4,000 remained.

"If we owe the money, we should pay it," Howe said.

The first-year senator said he asked party officials more than a month ago whether a legislator or a campaign committee could make contributions. He said he had not heard back as of Monday.

Sutton, however, said that he has not talked to Howe for months and never heard the senator's question.

The chairman said anyone can give to the party, and state campaign committees may donate to the party, although they could not earmark the contribution for any specific cause.

Howe said that the unpaid bills reflect poorly on the party and suggested that all 109 Republican lawmakers contribute.

Sutton said he would accept any donation.

After an election year, contributions to political parties usually slow down. Last fall was especially tough because the governor recount drained Republican resources more than usual.

Sutton said that because of the recount the party kept staffers on the payroll longer than in most years. They were paid, but counties were not paid as quickly.

"We pay as we can," Sutton said.

The November election ended close enough that Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer needed a recount of 2 million votes to decide the race.

Republicans sought information from counties that could help in their recount legal battle, and counties charged copying costs. Information sought included copies of county polling rosters, the catalogs of voters in each precinct that voters sign before casting ballots. They also wanted same-day registration lists and other paperwork county elections officials maintain.

Taxpayers fund most recount costs, but when campaigns or political parties seek copies of documents, as in this case, they must pay.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.