The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling from the Office of Administrative Hearings that Michelle MacDonald, who was a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2016, “knowingly violated” campaign law when she falsely claimed she was endorsed by a non-existent Republican organization.
Last December, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) ruled against MacDonald and also imposed a $500 civil penalty for violating the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act. The initial complaint against MacDonald was filed by Barbara Linert of Eagan and Steve Timmer of Edina.
The ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals highlighted that “the falsity of [MacDonald’s] statement” is what triggered the violation of the law:
In an interview about today’s ruling Linert said “Michelle MacDonald asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to find the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act unconstitutional and a violation of her First Amendment rights.”
Linert continued, “if they had found in her favor, any candidate in any election could lie about their endorsement without penalty of law. The court saw the importance of protecting voters from that chaos and ruled against her.”
“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin of Michelle MacDonald’s judicial aspirations,” added Linert.
Timmer called the ruling “an important, win for protecting voters from deception.”
Timmer added, “MacDonald’s position was that she could say anything, truthful or not, and be protected by the First Amendment. Our counsel, Karl Procaccini from Greene Espel, framed the issue perfectly in his opening remarks to the Court of Appeals: Does ‘Michelle MacDonald have a constitutional right to lie about an endorsement she doesn’t have?'”
Complaint alleged MacDonald’s false claim of endorsement was a “knowing and intentional violation” of campaign laws
In 2014, MacDonald was the Republican endorsed candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court against Justice David Lillehaug. MacDonald lost to Lillehaug by just 7 points — 53 percent to 46 percent in November 2014.
Last year, MacDonald announced she would run again for the Minnesota Supreme Court, but she was not endorsed by the Republican Party of Minnesota after Republicans decided not to endorse judicial candidates.
The Star Tribune published information provided by MacDonald claiming an endorsement from the “GOP’s Judicial Selection Committee 2016.”
In point of fact, there was no “Judicial Selection Committee” under the then-operative constitution of the Republican Party of Minnesota. There was a “judicial election committee,” referred to in lower case in the constitution, the function of which was to screen judicial candidates, and if they met the qualification for the position sought, pass them on to the convention for consideration of an actual endorsement. This committee had no power of endorsement on its own.
The complaint called MacDonald’s claims of endorsement by the Republican Party of Minnesota “highly misleading and deceptive”:
It was highly misleading and deceptive of Ms. MacDonald to claim the endorsement of a committee that did not exist, and to fundamentally misstate what the real committee did. The prospect for deceiving and misleading voters is obvious. The references to “Republican” and “GOP” were intended – also obviously – to cause voters to think that she had continuing Republican Party support, which she does not.
Included in the complaint is a transcript of comments made by MacDonald in a radio interview where she acknowledged she was “not Republican endorsed this year.”
The complaint from Linert and Timmer “assert that claiming endorsement by the fictitious ‘Judicial Selection Committee’ is a knowing and intentional violation” of Minn. Stat. § 211B.02:
Your Complainants assert that claiming endorsement by the fictitious “Judicial Selection Committee” is a knowing and intentional violation of Minn. Stat. § 211B.02 (2016), captioned FALSE CLAIM OF SUPPORT, which states as follows:
A person or candidate may not knowingly make, directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying that a candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of a major political party or party unit or of an organization [e.g., a BPOU]. A person or candidate may not state in written campaign material that the candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of an individual without first getting written permission from the individual to do so.
As noted in the complaint, editors of the Star Tribune removed the claim of endorsement by the “GOP’s Judicial Selection Committee 2016” from MacDonald’s candidate profile days after it was published.