Did Ernie Leidiger use campaign funds to pay off his speeding ticket?

On March 29, 2011, State Representative Ernie Leidiger was cited for speeding, going 74 in a 55 m.p.h. zone.  Nothing terribly unusual about that.  Leidiger was also cited for driving with a suspended license, which was dropped when Leidiger made his court appearance on June 24 at the Southdale Hennepin County Court.  Leidiger was convicted of speeding, and paid a $178 fine at the courthouse that day.

Screenshot from the Minnesota Trial Court Public Access (MPA) Remote View system showing Leidiger's conviction on the speeding charge (pa.courts.state.mn.us)

Why does this matter?  Well, it wouldn’t, if not for an entry on page 23 in Leidiger’s 2011 year-end campaign report filing.

From Page 23 of Ernie Leidiger's 2011 year-end campaign finance report showing a $178 payment at the address of Southdale Hennepin County Courthouse

This entry, cleverly coded as “Transportation”, appears to show that Leidiger paid his traffic ticket from his campaign’s bank account.  The dollar amount, payee, and timing fit.  That’s a problem, because paying off a traffic ticket isn’t one of the authorized uses for campaign funds, per the guidelines from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and  Public Disclosure Board:

Excerpt from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board showing valid noncampaign disbursement categories

Gary Goldsmith, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, indicated via e-mail in response to a general question that “The general requirements for use of campaign funds are set forth in Minn. Stat. § 211B.12, and would not appear to include paying traffic tickets.  In general, campaign finance money is to be used for expenses that will effect the vote in an election.”

However, Goldsmith also noted that any final determination would have to be the result of a complaint filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, which has jurisdiction over the statute in question.  As of yet, no one has filed a complaint over Leidiger’s use of campaign funds in such a way.

One has to wonder if Leidiger’s donors appreciate their contributions being used in such a way.

Here is Leidiger’s full campaign finance document for your review:

(Thanks to the tipster who brought this to my attention.)


58 Responses to “Did Ernie Leidiger use campaign funds to pay off his speeding ticket?”

  1. The answer to your question is…. maybe. But if so, it was an oversight. I know first hand that it’s not the first time Ernie mixed up his debit cards. This kind of thing happens with many legislators, and the transactions are then rectified by the campaign treasurer. (Psst. Your extreme partisanship is showing again).

    • If it was an oversight, it was a double oversight by both Leidiger and his treasurer. The fact is, it was submitted on the official campaign finance report. So, it’s fair game to bring up.

      And, if you would care to ask before making your sweeping accusations, you’d find I have little sympathy for any politician of any party who doesn’t follow such rules.

  2. John, I believe your extreme partisanship is showing. A mixed up debit card does nothing to explain how the expense ended up on his campaign finance report. It only explains his method of payment. Nice try though. 🙂

    • This is a simple mistake and it happens all of the time. The treasurer usually questions the entries, and he missed one. It’s not a big deal. It’s not intentional. And these things are regularly corrected. It’s more than likely been corrected already. Here’s how it works. Ernie goes to court and uses the wrong account to pay his bill. Maybe they don’t take credit cards, and only take checks, and the only check book he has with him is the campaign book. I know I almost never carry a check book anymore because few people take them. So Ernie classifies his outlays when the statement comes. Now Steve is reviewing the statement, and doesn’t notice that this should have been from his personal account, and Ernie forgot about the wrong check book by the end of the next month. I guarantee you that this is has either been fixed, or soon will be. I know Steve has told me about having to do these repairs before. It’s routine.

      • Laura has been a candidate before, so I would think she’s familiar with the intricacies of campaign finance reporting requirements.

        I’m sure it probably was an innocent mistake, John, but the fact of the matter is that it was still on the report and needs to be resolved. They had seven months from the date of the payment to the filing of the report to make sure this was handled correctly and they didn’t do it. If you file a campaign finance report that has a problem in it you shouldn’t be surprised or angry if someone points it out.

      • Here’s the thing Sean. I a very good friend of Steve Nielsen. I can tell there no way he’d submit anything that he thought to be incorrect. He’s about as ethical as they come. Before a GOP meeting one day, he actually told me about a similiar situation, where they did make several corrections. Steve gets frustrated, but in Ernie’s defense, he has a business account, a personal account, and a campaign account, at the very least, and he sometimes makes mistakes, just as I do from time to time between my business account and my personal account. It drives the accountants mad, but none of it is intentional.

        • Again, if you file a campaign finance report that has a problem in it you shouldn’t be surprised or angry if someone points it out.

          I’ve never alleged there’s some sort of illicit scheme going on here. I’m sure Rep. Leidiger and Nielsen will get this issue straightened out promptly.

          I will say, though, that in my experience, I’ve never had a problem mixing up the personal and business accounts because I focus on it. I know exactly what card I’m using to pay for everything and I take the time to make sure not to mix them up. I’ve annoyed many cashiers by having them ring up multiple transactions at the register. That way, I’m saved the trouble of trying to undo the mess later.

          And when there’s state statute that requires your diligence regarding these issues, you need to be extra careful. Keeping track of three bank accounts is relatively simple compared with challenge of tinkering with our state statutes.

  3. John, I am in complete agreement that mistakes happen, get corrected, we move on. I also take you at your word that the Treasurer is ethical and has the best intentions. My problem is that in 2011 the Citizens for Ernie Leidiger Committee reported a total of only 8 expenses. The system is set up to require receipts for expenses and provide checks and balances between the candidate/legislator and the treasurer. It is not like this expense got overlooked in a sea of expenses – it was one of eight. Someone did not ask the right questions. Additionally, I have extreme difficulty buying into the reasoning that Rep. Leidiger may have found himself with no other means of payment that day in June. A quick visit to the Hennepin County Court website indicates you can pay in person with cash, check, money order, Visa or Mastercard. It certainly would be irresponsible to only carry a campaign checkbook or debit card if you were going to court or anywhere. I am also certain that Rep. Leidiger knows it is never okay to knowingly use campaign dollars “temporarily” for a personal use and replace them at a later time. There is another possibility and that is Rep. Leidigier and/or his treasurer thought the fine was legitimately a non-campaign disbursement. A call to campaign finance would have clarified that thought. The bottom line is we can speculate all we want but what we really need is an explanation from Rep. Leidiger.

  4. As far what he used to pay, I don’t know for sure. Iwas laying out a hypothetical situation. I know when my son went to court for similar charges, he wasn’t allowed to pay with anything but cash. But that was a different county. I’ll pass this on to Steve, and he’ll give me a straight answer. I’m sure it’s just a minor oversight. We’re busy planning our convention, so I talk to him several times day, but I wouldn’t expect him to look into this trivial matter until after the convention. We just have too many important matters to attend to at the moment.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. This happened in the SUMMER– six months before the report was filed. That’s plenty of time to straighten this out. I am a small business owner, and if I use the wrong card, I rectify it immediately. As a small business owner himself, Rep. Leidiger surely does the same. In addition, I’m the treasurer for a PAC. I am SCRUPULOUS in filing, and SCRUPULOUS in obtaining receipts, and the reasons for each expenditure. With only 8 (8!!!!) items listed, how on God’s green earth could this be an “oversight?” A complaint should definitely be filed. If anyone’s already done it, let me know. Otherwise, I’m game.

    • Time is likely the reason it WAS overlooked. Some of you need something to do, I’d say. This such a tiny oversight as to be nearly ridiculous. Like I said, when I tell Steve about it, I’m ssure it will be rectified. I guess I better tell him now, before some hyper-partisan lunatic wastes time on something so minor.

      • John,

        Calling a speeding ticket “transportation” is transparent fraud on, among others, the Campaign Board, and your defense of it is transparent gasbaggery.

        Did Leidiger take a public subsidy when he ran for office in 2010? If he did, it’s also fraud on the public treasury.

        I’ve already contacted the Campaign Board about this to fix the sequence of events in the record, so that when the Leidiger campaign tries to go back and do some backing and filling that no one will be fooled into thinking that it is merely correcting a mistake it made.

        And I am quite certain that a complaint will be lodged with the Board shortly.

      • You’d better hurry, because the adjustments are already under way! LOL!

  6. Won’t matter.

  7. It fact, now it it is an admission of the first fraudulent report.

  8. So apparently, in your mind, these kinds of errors can never be corrected with out some sort of punishment. And somehow, you assert that my letting Steve know what you might have found is admission of sort of guilt. What a hoot!

    People make amendments to financial statements all of the time. I don’t know what makes you think you’ve got some smoking gun here. Until you have original doument ID’s, all you have at this point is a guess, and maybe a case of miscommunication.

  9. Again, there are only EIGHT items listed. It’s not as though it got lost in the shuffle. I’m assuming a receipt would say “Hennepin County Courts”. Obviously, it’s not a gas bill, a taxi receipt or a chartered bus. Seems to my eyes that Ernie and his treasurer thought they could slide this through. If anyone can explain how such an innocent error could take place, I’d love to hear it. So far I’ve haven’t read anything here that explains it in any realistic fashion.

  10. I’m so glad you guys have already made up your mind. As I said. Hyper partisan. It’s an oversight that will be corrected at worst. It might be a fantasy. there’s no way Steve was trying to “slide” this through. For $178! Why would anyone risk an ethics compliant over a measly $178? There is no way this was intentional.

  11. John– I’m curious– how do you know what party (if any) I’m affiliated with?

  12. Well, Jennifer, it’s difficult to imagine that someone within our party would really get so twisted up over $178. There might be reasons some folks within our our party have a disagreement with Ernie. We don’t all walk in lock step as some would beleive. But yet, I can’t imagine anyone of us really getting into twist over this petty nonsense. Seems partisan to me.

  13. Violating a law is not petty nonsense. Whether it’s five dollars or five thousand dollars, it was wrong. The amount does not matter. Guess that’s just me though. I don’t shrug off ethical violations or law-breaking. Must be the way I was raised….

    Let me pose it this way– you give me money for a purpose, let’s say to buy a present for a mutual friend. I take that money and spend it on something else. Of course, you believe that your contribution went to the gift. I don’t replace that money until months later–actually, after someone else brings it to my attention. Did I do something wrong? Shouldn’t your money go to the purpose you thought it was going for?

    Rules, regulations and laws exist for a reason. And it’s not hard to follow them as they are listed with the Campaign Finance Board.

  14. Whatever. Who do you think was the biggest contributor to his campaign? Probably himself. So, even if he did do this, I fail to see what the big deal is. It’s a mistake that will likely be corrected. He’s not even my representative, so I think I’ve wasted enough time on this weak story.

  15. The matter has been resolved. There will be no charges against anyone for this minor oversight.

    • Whether that happens or not will be up to the respective bodies to decide, as I understand individuals have begun the complaint process with both the OAH and CFPDB.

      • Yes, and the respective bodies have stated there will be no charges.

      • What I’ve heard is no one will be taking up the issue. It’s an oversight, that was spotted, and corrected, and that’s that. If you look at the OAH penalty matrix, this one would fall within the $0 – 250 dollar range, because it was such a minor oversight, and had almost no impact on voters. It’s not worth the effort to take up a compliant when the corrective action has already been taken. The amended document has been filed, the monies transferred, and the problem has been resolved. What do you really expect to happen from this extremely minor oversight? Is there some precedent for such a minor issue to be severly punished? It’s a mistake on a form. Like one you might make on a tax return. You file an amended return, and move on.

        • I’ve never indicated that this should be severely punished. But you can’t say that nothing’s going to happen until a ruling is actually issued.

          I also would dispute your use of the term “oversight”. Based on Rep. Leidiger’s comments to the Star Tribune, it wasn’t an oversight. Rep. Leidiger’s comments indicate he felt it was legitimate to pay the ticket out of the campaign fund.

      • If you get a chance, I’d recommend you look at the very form you posted. You’ll notice there is a check box for filing an amended document. And now that one of these is in hand at the CFPDB, the matter is closed. If you guys want to continue with the complaint process, I just can’t imagine what you hope to gain?

        • First off, I’m not the one who filed the complaint, so I’m not part of the “you guys” you refer to. I have no idea whether they choose to continue or not. I had precisely zero idea the state DFL party was taking the action it took today — I was only aware of some local folks who were planning on filing a complaint. And I wasn’t involved with any of those efforts, either.

          Second, filing an amended campaign finance report doesn’t necessarily close the door on action by the OAH. (Especially given the fact that the amendment was not done voluntarily, but rather only done after negative publicity.) Just like if you steal something from a store but return it later, you can still be charged with theft.

  16. It is an oversight. He should have filed under disbursement number 2, return of campaign funds to donor. He donated over $1000 to his campaign fund. Taking some to pay a ticket while on the job may seem weird, but he certainly could have returned 178.00 to himself, and then gave that for the ticket. This goes no where and shows how poetty the DFL can be over non-substantive matters. What kind of whiny loser files an ethic complaint over something that won’t matter?

    • Yes, you are correct, that is precisely what he should have done (assuming he was bound and determined to make the initial payment out of the campaign account, which he shouldn’t have done in the first place). But, John, I would point you to Rep. Leidiger’s comments. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with paying for the ticket our of campaign funds. That’s why he didn’t do it, and that was wrong. You keep coming up with ways to spin this thing, but why not just say that Rep. Leidiger was wrong to do this, that he shouldn’t have done it, and he should apologize and then we can move on?

      • If it ever becomes clear that he did do something wrong, I’ll say so. So far it looks to me like some paperwork is out of order. Or was out of order. It was fixed as soon as someone noticed the problem. It’s just not a big deal. I certainly wouldn’t have done it that way, but I don’t think it’s in any way a criminal act. If he hadn’t showed a pile of cash over to his campaign account, and actually used funds from other people, I’d say we might have a problem here. But as far as OAH cases go, this one would seem pretty tame, especially since it could clearly be legal to dispense the funds to himself through a payment of a fine acheived while on the job.

        • Well, no, it’s not allowed by statute to use campaign funds to pay for speeding tickets. It’s very clear what are and are not allowable disbursements out of the campaign account. The only fines that are allowable to be paid out of the campaign account are fines assessed by the CFPDB.

          If Rep. Leidiger had made proactive efforts to clean things up before the campaign finance report was filed, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he didn’t, so here we are.

  17. It’s his money in the campaign account. He should have classified it as a disbursement back to himself, since he used the debit card for the campaign fund to pay for it. No big deal.

    • Again, John, you can’t use the campaign account to pay for personal items. The disbursement from the campaign account went to Hennepin County, not Ernie Leidiger. The language in the statute and in the guidance from the CFPDB is rather clear on this point. The campaign fund is not meant to be used like a petty cash account to cover the candidate’s personal expenses.

      • or illegal activities…speeding, going 74 in a 55 m.p.h. zone is an illegal activity.

      • Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. The board gave him the opportunity to maked the correction, and it was made. They stated there would be no charges if an amended report was filed, which it was, so end of story.

        • The activity in question isn’t adjudicated by the CFPDB, though. The OAH enforces the statute in question. Assurances from the CFPDB aren’t binding on the OAH.

  18. So you think the OAH will press on when the CFPDB recommends no charges to be filed? You seriously have a “hard on” for Ernie, for some reason, looking back to past stories. Put it in park already. It’s over.

    • I have no idea what they’re going to do. I talked to the CFPDB about this issue, and they were quite clear that the OAH has jurisdiction over the complaint. For the statutes that CFPDB is responsible for enforcing, there is no violation, so I can see why they would indicate from their end that they don’t have a problem.

      • The worst they can do under their own punishment guidelines is a $0 – $250 dollar fine. I highly doubt much will come of it.

  19. Ah, but John– you are ignoring the elephant in the room—- the ETHICAL issue. All of your talk of “petty nonsense”, “minor issue” merely references the monetary issue. Apparently, you don’t comprehend that the real problem is the unethical behavior of Rep. Leidiger and his treasurer. That’s the reason this is a big deal to many.

    • If Ernie had no personal donations in the account, then yes it would have been unethical. As it stands, it is merely a paperwork shuffle that was misclassified. It won’t happen again. The end result is exactly the same as if Ernie returned campaign funds to himself, and then paid the ticket from his personal account. The end balance in the campaign account would be the same either way. Why is this so difficult to understand? This is just a filing error, nothing more. And it was corrected. And I’m saying that because of that, per the OAH guidelines, while there might be a penalty for filing this incorrectly, it is very minor, and certainly falls within the lowest bucket in the OAH penalty bucket. So yes it is minor. No tax payer harm was done. No moentary harm was done. It’s just paperwork, pure and simple.

  20. How could it possibly be a paperwork shuffle that was misclassified? There were only EIGHT items to account for. A Hennepin County “transportation” item would have stood out like a sore thumb among the other expenses. And there were over six months to have an “oops” moment. Did no one actually look at the 8 receipts?

    Personal, business and campaign accounts should not be co-mingled. Who discovered this, John? Me thinks thou dost protest too much.

    • Here’s where your problem lies. You’re making the assumption that someone was trying to “get away” with something. Ernie paid for his ticket with his campaign debit card. His thinking was that he had donated funds to this account and could therefore pay for this from this account as it was obtained while on official business. Not the way I’d have gone, but that’s what he apparently did. Now had the paperwork been filed that Ernie was taking back funds from his campaign account, we’d have no issue. Number 2 in the list above shows that as a viable disbursement. So had the paperwork said “return to donor”, instead of transportation, and the payee having benn Ernie, everything would be A-OK.

      Except then people would have thought that he was paying himself with funds, and would have wondered about that being above board as well. And some partisan hack would still be getting into a twist.

      Ideally, yes Ernie should have paid the fine with his own personal account, and then we wouldn’t have this nit-picking going on.

      • Again, John, you’re missing the point. The payee wasn’t Ernie. The payee was Hennepin County. The transaction from the campaign account was not repaying a donor, it was paying Hennepin County for a speeding ticket.

        No one would have complained if Ernie had handled this the way it was supposed to be handled. Rep. Hoppe and Sen. Ortman have handled their filings appropriately and no one has said a peep.

        What’s amazing about this situation isn’t the so-called nitpicking but rather the great lengths you are going to in an attempt to spin Leidiger out of something that he clearly shouldn’t have done. You’re right that this isn’t the biggest thing in the world, but the continued denials that there’s nothing wrong here is just absurd.

        And from the rumbles I’ve heard, it ain’t just Democrats who are displeased with Leidiger’s cavalier handling of this issue.

      • Never said Ernie was the payee. I said he might have been able to pay himself back, and then pay the ticket. Either way, the result would be the same.

        The board told him that niether option was viable, and the repair was made. It’s a simple matter of interpretation. When his interpretation was rejected, the correction was made. It happens.

    • I didn’t discover this. But when I saw it, and saw Steve’s name attached to it, and that people were claiming they might file an ethics complaint, I certainly notified him so he could stay in front of it. With the current corrections, everyone’s happy, and there may be a slight reprimand, and it will never happen again, and so on and so forth. It’s unfortunate the way it played out, but again, no harm was done, and the money ends up the same either way. The greatest harm was to their own reputations, for something that should have been handled differently. Like I said all along, it’s a minor paperwork issue. Nothing more.

  21. There is a key issue that is being discussed incorrectly – a candidate cannot “take back” money they have donated to their campaign. It was a donation. It ceased to be “their money” once it was donated. This is why they have a loan provision in campaign finance – if you want the money back you have to fill out the proper paperwork on the front end of the loan. Additionally, the “return campaign funds to donor” is to account for funds that have to go back because they were received in error – like from a lobbyist during session or funds that were accepted but put a donor beyond the acceptable contribution limit. Not because the donor decides they want it back to use for something else. This is not a line of defense that is possible or legal. What Leidiger has done by writing a check this week is to, in effect, acknowledge that is was an improper campagin disbursement and he is replacing those funds in his campaign account. I don’t know what, if any, penalty will be imposed on him by the board.

    • The board was involved in clearing this up. They stated that as long as the matter was rectified, there would be no punishment. When I state that here on the blog, the DFL was notified, and they went for the complaint. They wanted to go beyond the board’s recommendations. As I said, sour grapes.


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