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5 former Bemidji school board candidates fined $250 for campaign billboard complaint

On Nov. 2, C.T. Marhula filed a complaint against five Bemidji school board candidates alleging that their campaign billboards lacked disclaimers in a form required by Minnesota Statute.

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Five 2022 Bemidji school board candidates have been fined a collective penalty of $250 after opposing candidate C.T. Marhula filed a complaint regarding campaign billboards lacking disclaimers required by Minnesota State statute.
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BEMIDJI — Five former Bemidji school board candidates have been fined a collective penalty of $250 after opposing candidate C.T. Marhula filed a complaint regarding campaign billboards lacking disclaimers required by Minnesota State statute.

In the Nov. 8 general election, of 23 candidates who filed, Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel earned four-year positions on the board, and Justin Hoover and Julie Laitala won two-year positions.

In the four-year race, Manecke received 13.45% of the total votes, followed by Wall with 13.08% and Frenzel with 12.75%. In the two-year race, Hoover received the most votes, 17.11% of the total, followed by Laitala with 15.83%.

According to court documents filed with the complaint, respondent and local business owner Daniel Larson supported the candidacies of Wall, Manecke and Hoover along with candidates Nicole Jaranson and Marie Claire Richey.

Larson, who also runs a billboard company, offered to arrange and pay for two billboards promoting the five candidates and asked each of them to provide photographs of themselves to be displayed on the billboards, which were located at busy intersections in Bemidji.

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One billboard was a traditional static billboard promoting Wall, Richey and Hoover. The second, a digital billboard, promoted all five candidates.

Each candidate reported the cost of the campaign billboards as an in-kind contribution from Larson on their individual campaign financial reports.

“Respondent candidates each reported one-fifth of the cost of the digital billboard as an in-kind contribution,” the court document adds. “Respondents Wall, Richey and Hoover also reported one-third of the cost of the static billboard as an in-kind contribution.”

The court documents detail that the billboards did not include a disclaimer indicating who or what committee prepared and paid for the material, though both included the candidates’ website address, www.votebemidji.com. The website included a proper disclaimer at the bottom of its home page.

“Respondent Larson never prepared a campaign billboard before and was not familiar with the disclaimer requirements,” the court documents state. “Larson thought including the campaign website address was sufficient.”

On Nov. 2, Marhula filed a complaint against the five candidates alleging that the billboards lacked disclaimers in a form required by Minnesota Statute.

“Minnesota statute makes it unlawful for a person to participate in the preparation or dissemination of most types of campaign material that does not prominently disclose the person or committee causing the material to be prepared or disseminated,” the documents said.

On Nov. 7, the presiding judge found that the complaint established a state statute violation and within hours of being notified of the complaint, Larson corrected both billboards to include a disclaimer that read: “prepared and paid for by Daniel Larson” along with his address.

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All parties appeared at a probable cause hearing that took place on Nov. 10. The candidates acknowledged that the billboards lacked the required disclaimer initially, but noted that both billboards included their campaign website.

On Nov. 16, the presiding judge found probable cause to believe that the candidates violated state statute, leading to the case closing on Dec. 19 with the candidates being ordered to pay a collective $250 civil penalty fee between the five of them and Larson ordered to pay a $100 fee by Friday, Jan. 27.

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