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Campaign finance complaint filed against Albrecht

BEMIDJI--Just two months after the state Office of Administrative Hearings wrapped up a series of Bemidji campaign finance cases from the 2018 election, another has made its way onto the docket.

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BEMIDJI-Just two months after the state Office of Administrative Hearings wrapped up a series of Bemidji campaign finance cases from the 2018 election, another has made its way onto the docket.

Bemidji resident Mike Smith filed a campaign practices and finance complaint on March 8 against Mayor Rita Albrecht regarding her 2018 re-election campaign. In the 2018 election, Albrecht earned a fourth term, defeating Joe Vene.

The complaint made six claims of campaign finance violations in total. Four of the claims were dismissed, while the findings were supported in two of them to proceed to a prehearing telephone conference on Monday, April 8, according to documents from the state office.

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Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht

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One complaint to be discussed at that conference relates to a statute requiring a candidate or committee to file a report 10 days before the primary. According to the complaint, Albrecht was required to file a report on Aug. 4, 10 days before the Aug. 14 primary. However, Albrecht's only released reports on July 27, Oct. 24 and Dec. 6.

The other violation advancing to the April conference relates to the statute requiring candidates to report the total cash on hand, contributions and disbursements. The complaint alleges Albrecht failed to report the date and purpose of a $200 disbursement. The complaint was based on a comparison of Albrecht's July and October reports.

The complaint alleges Albrecht should have had $620 listed as cash on hand in the October report. Instead, the complaint notes Albrecht had cash on hand listed at $420.

When reached for a statement, Smith said he did not have a comment at this time.

When reached by the Pioneer, Albrecht said, "I think that the issues are indicative of the need to have a better understanding at the local level of how campaign finance works."

Of the claims dismissed, one alleged Albrecht failed to report the employer and/or occupation of an individual who contributed $300 in the July report. However, Administrative Law Judge LauraSue Schlatter dismissed the claim, as Smith failed to include evidence of a violation.

Schlatter also dismissed a claim alleging Albrecht failed to file a certification form within seven days after the general election. Documents state Schlatter found no allegation that Albrecht intentionally failed to file the certification.

A misinterpretation of one of Albrecht's reports cause another claim to be dismissed. The complaint alleged Albrecht had received a contribution of $800, coming in over the $600 limit. However, Schlatter found the complaint misread Albrecht's total contributions amount for an individual donation.

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Finally, the fourth claim alleged Albrecht had displayed purposefully displayed a banner with her name on it at a street lamp near a polling place. State statute does prohibit campaign signs in or immediately adjacent to polling locations. There was insufficient evidence to support the banner was created to influence voting, according to Schlatter, as the banner was designed as a holiday decoration.

The complaint filed against Albrecht comes after four cases were brought forward before administrative hearing judges the past few months stemming from the 2018 General Election. The cases were based on campaign finance complaints against Vene, At-Large City Council candidate Don Heinonen and Ward 2 City Council candidate Michael Beard.

Those complaints stemmed from a group who made in-kind contributions to the trio of candidates with an online promotional presence, using the slogan "Bemidji First." Of the three, Beard was the only one to win election in November.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2018
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