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Judge tosses remaining campaign claims against pro-District 833 levy group

A judge tossed out the remaining complaints against a pro-School District 833 levy committee alleging it broke campaign finance law.

Administrative Law Judge Barbara Case ruled that there was no probable cause to believe Committee for VOTE improperly reported its finances and use of a Woodbury law office for mail and meetings. She dismissed the two allegations in a written order on Friday, Nov. 8.

The volunteer Committee for VOTE campaigned in support of South Washington County Schools’ three-question referendum Nov. 5.

Woodbury resident Andrea Mayer-Bruestle alleged in a complaint filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings last month that the Committee for VOTE failed to follow state law on how it documented its finances in a campaign filing and for failing to note the use of the attorney’s office as an in-kind donation.

Mayer-Bruestle questioned the committee’s mid-October filing that reported $2,200 cash on hand but no contributions in the filing period and $3,236 in expenditures.

Committee attorney Alan Weinblatt said during a probable cause hearing last week that the report was accurate because the committee had money on hand from work in previous years. However, he acknowledged the report should have noted the committee actually had $2,279.90.

Case said Mayer-Bruestle failed to present sufficient facts backing her claim. The judge called the erroneously reported $2,200 a clerical error that “does not reflect a failure to accurately disclose the information required” by law.

There were more expenditures reported than cash to pay for them because the committee documented expenses that were incurred but not yet paid.

Mayer-Bruestle said she was disappointed with the decision but said the complaint was worth filing because it raised questions about the committee’s finances and forced it to clarify and correct some financial details.

“If it increases transparency, that’s a good thing,” she said.

Case also dismissed Mayer-Bruestle’s claim that the committee should have reported its use of Carter Bergen’s law office as an in-kind contribution to the campaign. She estimated the contribution at $2,655 based on a monthly rental cost she estimated by using a real estate website. Mayer-Bruestle admitted during the probable cause hearing that she hadn’t been in the law office and did not know how many meetings the committee held there. She cited committee treasurer Mary Scholz’s statement in an email that the committee had “meetings” there.

In her ruling, Case wrote that Mayer-Bruestle’s way of estimating the value of the donation was “unavailing,” and that the rent presumably was already paid and the committee was given permission to use the office.

“If the conference room was not offered to the committee for its use, it does not necessarily follow that the committee would have had to rent a conference room,” Case wrote in dismissing the complaint. “It could have met at a variety of locations free of charge, such as someone’s home or a coffee shop.”

The Friday ruling came after Case had already dismissed the complaints other claims.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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