The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
The agency that regulates campaign finance found probable cause that the right-wing activist group Action 4 Liberty, which has been working to boost allies in upcoming Republican primaries, violated state campaign law.
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board alleges that the group made illegal corporate campaign contributions to Republican gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah and failed to report the contributions.
The determination comes after a complaint to the board in May alleging certain Action 4 Liberty-connected emails mentioned Shah, which constituted an endorsement.
Action 4 Liberty didn’t respond to a request for comment. Shah couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
During Shah’s campaign, which died at the state GOP convention, Action 4 Liberty granted the candidate access to their NationBuilder account, a platform that consolidates communications information.
Under Minnesota corporate political law, corporations are prohibited from making contributions directly or indirectly to candidates. Candidates are also not allowed to accept the contributions. Action 4 Liberty falls under this law because they are a nonprofit corporation.
In June, Action 4 Liberty argued that the access was not a contribution because Shah’s campaign paid a negotiated amount for access to the account. But the board said a negotiated payment doesn’t guarantee that the transaction wasn’t a contribution.
“If the cost paid for a service is less than fair market value, the difference between what was paid and what the services would have cost on the open market represents a contribution to the committee that received the services,” the board said.
Due to uncertainties about the market value of access to the platform and ambiguity regarding the negotiations, the board said there is reason to believe that the Shah committee paid less than fair market value for access to this account — making it an illegal campaign contribution.
The maximum penalty for violating this statute — five years in prison and a $20,000 fine — are felony-level.
The board also determined there was probable cause that Action 4 Liberty and Shah violated campaign reporting requirements by not including the activity on either of their 2021 year-end reports.
Before any penalties can be imposed, however, the board must first weigh several factors, including the magnitude of the alleged violation and the knowledge of respondents, to determine whether it warrants a formal investigation. If a formal investigation isn’t ordered, then the board will have to dismiss the complaint or order a staff review.
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