Accusations by surrogates of the Gretchen Hoffman campaign that her rival's campaign "bought" the endorsement of conservative talk radio and television host Scott Hennen raise questions not only about conflicts of interest for the Northwestern Minnesota/North Dakota media personality and Lee Byberg.
The charges also raise ethical questions for State Senator Dave Thompson, who served as a media consultant for the Byberg campaign when the bulk of the financial transactions between the campaign and Hennen's media company occurred in 2010, and for Hoffman herself.
John Hugh Gilmore. who blogs at Minnesota Conservatives, writes in Byberg Buys Endorsements? Hennen Deceives?:
MC has explosive information concerning the hard fought contest for the republican endorsement in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District. Documents obtained by MC suggest that far from being neutral in this race, Scott Hennen has been paid over $35,000 by candidate Lee Byberg over the last two years. The top document shows the payments (click on the image to enlarge) while the bottom document contains the balance of an email Hennen sent claiming his heretofore neutrality in the race (click on the image to enlarge).
Let's see where the shrapnel from that explosive information falls. During the 2010 campaign, the Byberg committee spent $30,000 on "radio advertising" with Freedom Forum Communications in October of that year.
In the same report to the FEC, the Byberg campaign lists a consulting fee for Dave Thompson, who was also consulting for the MNGOP and running for the State Senate himself. Did Senator Thompson have any input to this media buy?
Has Scott Hennen ever disclosed his consulting contracts to his listeners? Or those who visit his other media platforms? Are there other clients out there that Hennen promoted without the listeners knowing about the financial relationships?
What was the nature of the consulting for which Hennen was paid $5000 in late 2011?
Whatever that service may have been, it does seem that the Hoffman campaign is over-reaching a bit when it --or whomever is circulating the document -- claim that Byberg was "buying" Hennen's 2012 endorsement. Byberg was already the endorsed GOP candidate when most of the checks were cut in October 2010 and the size of the buy isn't out of line for a congressional campaign during the last month of an election. Byberg had just been placed on the first tier of the RNCC Young Guns list at the end of September, Minnpost reported in NRCC chief 'confident' that Byberg will oust Peterson. Nor was Hoffman anticipated to be in the 2012 congressional when the 2011 consultant fee was paid.
Moreover, if exposing conflicts of interest between endorsers and consultants is sauce for the gander, it's also sauce for the goose. Roast goose ala Hoffman? Since Hoffman has only been in the CD7 race since redistrcting paired her with another state senator, delegates won't have a chance to look at an FEC quarterly report from the Hoffman campaign, but there are Hoffman state campaign finance reports.
The spending in these documents are at a much smaller scale than for a congressional race, since the state of Minnesota imposes certain campaign committee spending limits on those candidates whose committees accept state campaign finance funds. Both Hoffman and her DFL rival accepted the funds.
Now let's consider one of Hoffman's recent endorsements: that of VOICES PAC, the charitable wing of Voices of Conservative Women, led by the genial Jen DeJournett. Are there any potential quid-pro-quo conflicts beneath that endorsement?
Using the same logic as those who threw out the Hennen accusations: yes. On December 30, 2011, the Volunteers for Hoffman campaign wrote a $7550 check to P2B Strategies for "Advertising." This was over half of the spending by the campaign in 2011. It's quite possible that this was a pre-2012 buy, a tested and perfectly legal way of stretching those campaign dollars peioe to an election year.
So what's the problem? One of the Business Partners of P2B Strategies: Jenn DeJournett, who also founded and leads VOICES. VOICES also endorsed Hoffman, a conservative woman who screened with the group, in 2010. According to the 2010 year-end report filed by Volunteers for Hoffman, the committee received $400 from VOICES state PAC (page 10). The campaign paid P2B Strategies $23,597.61 for a variety of advertising: signs, flyers, printed mail literature; the campaign reported spending a total of $37,870.33, making the money that went to DeJournett's business partner well over half of the money the Hoffman campaign.
Bluestem doesn't think this spending illustrates that Hoffman bought the VOICES endorsement, any more than Byberg purchased that of Scott Hennen. Rather, the nods of approval from those who who also profit from campaign spending illustrates the nature of the Minnesota Republican political operatives in the Age of Sutton. Brodcasters Dave Thompson and Scott Hennen profited from Byberg's campaign; a business partner of the VOICES state PAC took in the lion's share of Hoffman's senate funding.
Should both Hennen and DeJournett be required to disclosed these financial afrrangements when they or their groups are shouting endorsements from the rooftops--or airwaves, as it were? Certainly, both the Byberg and Hoffman campaigns haven't concealed anything here.
However, only one of them had the self-righteousness to call the other on the carpet for standard Republican operating procedure, and it will be up to Republican congressional delegates to decide whether calling this MO to the public's attention deserves the reward of endorsement or banishment back to the Forests of Vergas.
Pop some corn: it should be a fun show tomorrow in Alexandria.
Photo: Kvetchin Gretchen Hoffman. If the sauce for the gander is the sauce for the goose, will her surrogates attacks on Byberg's endorsements lay an egg?