According to an order from the Office of Administrative Hearings, Education Minnesota, one of the largest and most influential unions in the state, told their local teachers union affiliates there was no need to timely report certain campaign finance disbursements as required by law.
In December, a panel of three administrative law judges found that Dakota County United Educators (DCUE), a teachers union affiliated with Education Minnesota, broke the law by failing to appropriately report disbursements used to support local school board candidates endorsed by the DCUE in the 2023 Minnesota school board elections for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district.
According to the report, Katie Schmidt, the president of Dakota County United Educators, asked Education Minnesota to produce lawn signs in support of DCUE-endorsed candidates in September of 2023. In October, Schmidt asked Education Minnesota to produce print and mail post cards supporting DCUE-endorsed candidates.
Education Minnesota provided those services.
However, Education Minnesota sent out an email on Oct. 18 to all union affiliates which told the local teachers unions they do not need to report those campaign finance expenses in the manner prescribed by law.
Education Minnesota’s email stated, “[I]f you have not received invoices yet, you do not need to file until you receive them.”
On Oct. 26, 2023, DCUE filed their campaign finance report in which they “did not include expenditures for the postcards, flyers, and lawn signs that were ordered and disseminated prior to that date.” As such, those expenditures were not public until Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, the day before the election, when DCUE filed amended reports, according to the order.
“[DCUE] conceded that it was not their practice to report expenditures for printed campaign materials purchased through Education Minnesota until after the receipt of an invoice,” the order explains.
In their Dec. 19 order, the panel of administrative law judges found that DCUE violated Minnesota statutes “211A.02 by failing to report expenditures for printed campaign materials when the promise to use funds for campaign purposes was made.”
“In this case, the promise was made when Respondent agreed to purchase and pay for printed materials from Education Minnesota in late September/early October, prior to the filing of the October 26, 2023 campaign finance report. This promise falls within the definition of a disbursement and is, therefore, subject to reporting,” the order says.
Additionally, the order notes that the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board advises candidates “that the date that a campaign expenditure is reportable is the date when the committee made the commitment to spend the money, not when the bill was actually paid.”
“While not controlling, the Campaign Finance Board’s opinion is instructive. To conclude otherwise would create a loophole in the statute, allowing less well-intentioned campaign committees to effectively conceal their spending until after the election,” the order concludes.
In the run up to the election, the DCUE had disbursed tens of thousands of dollars to Education Minnesota for their printing services. The panel subsequently fined DCUE for failing to report these disbursements. The fine was a civil penalty of only $100.
“The pre-election reports are critical to understanding how much is being spent and from where, so that voters and campaigns can compete with integrity and on the issues. These pre-election reports are a very necessary component for free and fair elections,” said Paul Wikstrom, who ran for school board in Mounds View last cycle. “A $100 fine is not commensurate with the impact this denial of information had upon the voters.”
Education Minnesota is the only statewide teachers union in Minnesota. With significant influence and resources, Education Minnesota coaxes public officials, state agencies, and school districts into supporting the special interests of public school teachers. Local teachers unions in the state are affiliate organizations of Education Minnesota.