According to his 2016 pre-primary fundraising report, Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, received a campaign contribution of $4500 from the Renville County RPM on July 17, 2016:
That July contribution brought the county BPOU's (basic party operating unit) contribution to $5000 for 2016 (he received $1000 from county BPOU in 2015). The contribution is entirely legitimate, given that Miller's committee remains under the aggregate limit of $10,000 from party and terminating candidate committees.
But when we turn to the Renville County RPM committee report, we notice something a bit odd:
No, it's not that Miller received twice as much as Minnesota Senate District 17 candidate Andrew Lang, whom many Republicans give a good chance of giving incumbent moderate Clara City Democrat Lyle Koenen.
It's the fact that the check that Miller received on Sunday, July 17, 2016 doesn't seem to have been cut until the next day, July 18, 2016.
We're also curious where a rural county receives its money. In 2014, the BPOU also gave generously to Miller; in that year, the committee's only itemized receipt was $6,952.00 from Representative Drazkowski's committee (candidates with active committees may give to party units, but not directly to other candidates). Draz's contributions constituted over half of the total contributions of $12,430.00 that the committee received in 2014.
This year is different. So far this year, the Renville County RPM has received $7496 in contributions. Of that money, the lion's share is a $5000 contribution from the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative PAC, received by the Renville County on Monday, July 18, 2016, according to its report:
The Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative is a farmer-owned sugar producer and refining co-op. In the past, the PAC has given to candidates from both parties and to caucus campaign committees, but never to a county committee, according to Minnesota Campaign Finance Committee records going back to 2005 (use pull down menu here).
So far this year, the committee has given only to political party committees--the four major party legislative caucuses receiving $2500 each, with Renvillee County RPM getting that fat $5000 check. While it's the cooperative's home county, it's not the PAC's past pattern of giving.
This contribution is also the largest single contribution to any one entity by the SMBSC State PAC in the fundraising records online for 2005-2016.
Here's the screengrab of the 2016 pre-primary contributions (full report available here):
Note that the check to Renville County RPM was cut on a Friday, so it makes sense that, if mailed, the county unit received the envelope on Monday, July 18, 2016. We suppose it's entirely coincidental that the co-op cut a $5000 check to the county unit, which then wrote a $4500 check to Representative Miller on the same day (though Miller's committee reports getting the BPOU check the day before).
Readers might ask why the PAC didn't just send the money directly to Miller, but there's a good reason for that. Political Action Committees are limited in how much they may give to candidates during a two-year cycle:
Miller received $500 from the PAC in 2015, which means he may receive only $500 more from it for the 2015-2016 cycle.
As far as we can tell, this gifting and re-gifting is entirely legal, though this statute could apply if the intentions were less than honorable.
Of course, this flow of money may be entirely innocent and unrelated. Nonetheless, Bluestem is curious what the purpose that the co-operative might have in suddenly making its largest contribution in eleven years to a local county political unit, after a decade of distinctively different giving.
Pollution fine woes
After all, the regulatory woes confronting the co-operative in recent years haven't been centered on Renville County government. Rather, the sugar refiners have faced relatively massive fines for air and water quality violations from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), including a fish kill in a creek that feeds into the Minnesota River.
At the West Central Tribune, Tom Cherveny reported in Southern Minnesota Sugar to pay $1.5 million for violations, back in May:
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the United States Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative over water and air quality pollution violations. The cooperative has agreed to correct the violations and will pay more than $1.5 million in penalties.
The violations, which occurred over a period of years at the co-op’s processing plant near Renville, included excessive hydrogen sulfide emissions, which cause odors and can be harmful to human health, and wastewater discharges, which resulted in a fish kill in Beaver Creek.
The agreement reached by the MPCA and EPA is a consent decree (agreement) filed in district court. It addresses wastewater violations of the federal Clean Water Act, and of the co-op’s wastewater permit.
Monitoring of discharged water from the plant’s wastewater treatment system showed numerous, ongoing water quality violations from 2009 to 2015. Violations involved releasing untreated or undertreated wastewater, exceeding pollution limits, and failures in operation and maintenance.
The agreement requires the co-op to prepare a contingency plan, conduct regular monitoring and sampling, prepare models to predict possible violations, submit timely reports, and pay a $1 million penalty. In addition, the co-op must pay more than $49,000 to the Dept. of Natural Resources in restitution for the August 2013 fish kill in Beaver Creek.
A separate agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency addresses air pollution violations. The company will take additional steps to curb hydrogen sulfide air emissions, and pay a $485,000 civil penalty. Beyond the so-called ‘rotten egg’ odor, excessive hydrogen sulfide in the air is harmful to human health.
According to monitoring data from 2012 through 2014, there were a total of 780 violations of hydrogen sulfide air quality limits. The emissions occur primarily from large wastewater storage ponds in the processing plant’s wastewater treatment system. . . .
Bring Me The News had more in Fish kill from wastewater is part of $1.5M pollution fine for MN beet group.
SMBSC at an environmental listening session
Miller has been an outspoken critic of efforts to improve water quality. At a meeting in Olivia covered by the West Central Tribune in February, Farmers take aim at buffer law: Legislators listening session held on eve of governor’s water summit, Miller also raised concerns about trout stream designations and other matters, though Tom Cherveny focused on the buffer issue.
We attended the meeting and recall an official from the beet co-operative reading from seemed to be prepared remarks about how the Minnesota River and its tributaries had never been clean (other sources point to another story in the upper valley) so high standards might be too high a bar for industry and farmers. Miller seemed receptive.
We video taped the meeting and will review the footage to see if it's worth sharing in a future post.
Photo: Part of the 2013 Beaver Creek fishkill.
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