Mayor Rybak ordered to pay back thousands in campaign funds

5:06 PM, Nov 6, 2009   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Fresh out of the gubernatorial campaign gate, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was punished Friday for using mayoral campaign funds for what state regulators said were activities that furthered the Democrat's 2010 bid for governor.

A gubernatorial campaign fund for Rybak -- who filed paperwork Thursday to move ahead with a 2010 run -- must reimburse his mayoral campaign for $26,500 in expenses and account for other costs. No fines were issued.

A statement issued by Rybak's mayoral campaign said he believes he was "honest and forthcoming" about his consideration of a run for governor.

"Although we disagree with the basis, we will accept the board's finding and take action to account for these expenses and reimburse the mayor's campaign for them," the statement read.

The ruling was in response to a Republican Party complaint against Rybak. The GOP accused him of covertly running for both offices at once and using his mayoral campaign fund improperly. Rybak was elected to a third term as mayor on Tuesday.

Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said he hasn't ruled out asking local regulators to investigate Rybak's compliance with municipal standards or filing another complaint with the state.

"This wasn't an inadvertent or technical mistake or an accident," Sutton said. "It was a deliberate attempt to circumvent Minnesota campaign finance laws."

In its ruling, the Minnesota campaign finance board said a survey Rybak commissioned this spring appeared aimed more at a gubernatorial bid than his re-election campaign. The ruling said portions of the survey "have little relevance to running for office in Minneapolis, but would be of great interest to a candidate designing a strategy for governor."

Among the questions were whether respondents had voted in 2006 -- the last time the governor's office was on the ballot -- and whether they intend to vote in 2010. City elections are in odd years. Some of the people surveyed lived outside of Minneapolis, according to the complaint.

The board also said he must document certain travel costs retroactively when he files a state campaign report in January. The costs are related to debates and other events Rybak attended outside Minneapolis, many involving other candidates for governor.

It's not clear yet whether Friday's ruling will hamper Rybak's campaign.

Minnesota candidates must abide by a spending limit for their campaigns if they seek a public subsidy. For now, Rybak hasn't indicated he would try to qualify for the subsidy, which can run upwards of $400,000 for major-party nominees.

In a companion ruling, the board found that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman qualified as a candidate for governor under state law but found no evidence that he raised or spent campaign funds on a statewide race. Coleman, who ruled out a run for governor a month ago, is not required to register a campaign committee but must report how much of his own money he spent attending events in the governor's race.

Rybak is one of a dozen declared Democrats seeking the office. Eight Republicans are also in the running. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, isn't seeking a third term.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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