Dill: Implicated or vindicated?

by Tom Coombe

State Rep. David Dill violated state law, but not intentionally, when he exceeded campaign spending limits two years ago, the state’s campaign finance board ruled last week.<BR><BR>In a decision issued Wednesday, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board found that Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) spent over $4,000 more than was allowed during his 2002 primary campaign, while topping general election limits by over $2,400.<BR><BR>The bipartisan board also cleared Dill of several other charges, including allegations that he knowingly filed a false campaign spending report and that his campaign improperly paid in-kind salaries to campaign staff.<BR><BR>The split ruling produced cries of victory from both Dill and those who charged him with wrongdoing.<BR><BR>Dill, both in a news release issued Thursday and a telephone interview earlier in the day, claimed he was vindicated by the report and focused on the board decision clearing him of intentional violations.<BR><BR>But Nancy Powers, an Ely attorney and campaign manager for Dill challenger and DFL-endorsed candidate Bill Hansen, said she was also pleased by the ruling that stems from a complaint she and three DFL party officials filed in March.<BR><BR>“We’ve very pleased with the decision,” said Powers. “They upheld almost every overspending allegation we made... It looks like he (Dill) was reading an entirely different decision than I was.”<BR><BR>Campaign finance board staff declined comment on the decision, which could result in civil penalties exceeding $25,000. Dill has been directed to enter into a conciliation process with the board, and the actual fine is expected to be much smaller than the maximum allowed by law.<BR><BR>The details<BR><BR>Following an investigation that included a hearing before the board April 28, the board found that:<BR><BR>• Dill under-reported the expense of flying his private airplane, billing his campaign at a rate of $27 per hour when the actual cost of operation was assessed at $80 per hour;<BR><BR>• Campaign expenditures by a volunteer, reaching nearly $1,000, were improperly and inadvertently categorized as a noncampaign disbursement;<BR><BR>• Dill’s campaign committee improperly disclosed preprimary expenditures with the city of Orr as a postprimary expense.<BR><BR>The board found that Dill spent $34,144.78 on the primary in 2002, and had total expenses of $38,554.77 for the year, exceeding the respective limits by $4,026 and $2,412.<BR><BR>The board also ruled that there was no evidence that the committee made improper payments to staffers Richard Watson and Bill Arthur.<BR><BR>The reaction<BR><BR>Powers released the decision to local media Thursday and claimed the report proved that Dill’s public statements since the complaint was filed were false and misleading.<BR><BR>“From the time the complaint was filed, he claimed he didn’t violate the law at all,” said Powers. <BR><BR>Powers and Ely area resident Jim Hart, a DFL activist and one of the party officials who signed the complaint, charged that Dill had violated the public trust.<BR><BR>But Dill, who issued a news release of his own later in the day, had a much different reaction to the decision.<BR><BR>Dill focused on the board’s decision to “dismiss in its entirety,” the allegations that he knowingly filed a false spending report.<BR><BR>“The Hansen campaign said that we intentionally did this,” said Dill. “This decision is absolutely a vindication of any wrongdoing on our part whatsoever. The whole crux of their argument is that I filed false returns and that I purposely concealed expenditures.<BR><BR>“All of the part about the city was refuted. All of the parts about Richard Watson and Bill Arthur were refuted.”<BR><BR>Dill said he never denied overspending and that his campaign may have made mistakes in its reports.<BR><BR>“We said if we overspent or made errors that we would correct them and do the right thing,” said Dill.<BR><BR>Powers said it’s difficult to prove a willful violation of campaign finance law and that it’s rare for the board to make such a finding.<BR><BR>“I wouldn’t have alleged it if I’d have known how difficult it was,” said Powers. “We knew that the matter of intent was hard to prove.”<BR><BR>The political sniping<BR><BR>With more than three months to go until the September DFL primary, both the Dill and Hansen camps are stepping up their attacks in what’s shaping up to be very hotly-contested campaign.<BR><BR>Dill Campaign Chairperson Ruth Carlson called for apologies from both Powers and Hansen, accused them of rumormongering, and said Hansen should withdraw from the race.<BR><BR>Powers said she was shocked by the Dill release.<BR><BR>“I’m just speechless at the magnitude of his misrepresentation of what the board did, and his arrogance in claiming victory,” said Powers. “To me, it’s just one more example of his attitude about public trust and taxpayer money.”<BR><BR>But Dill stands by both the release and his position.<BR><BR>“It was Bill Hansen’s campaign manager that said I was a crook and Bill Hansen in his endorsing statement at the convention who said I was facing criminal charges,” said Dill. “The headline in your article should be 'Dill Vindicated.' They’ve slung mud on me and my family and through the weeds they’ve charged me with everything you can imagine. But look at the report. Dismissed in its entirety. Quote unquote.”