LAKE ELMO — City Council candidate Anne Smith has filed a unfair campaign practices complaint against Mayor Dean Johnston with the Minnesota Office of Administrative over the mayor removing Smith’s campaign literature from the door of a Lake Elmo residence.
Smith’s filing comes a few days after a conflict counsel determined that charges would not be pursued against Johnston by the city attorney in connection with Smith’s allegation against the mayor.
“I filed this complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings because it is the right thing to do,” Smith said. “I run a clean campaign; passing out my one piece of literature is a key component to my campaign. Passing out my one piece of literature in the door, I want the residents of Lake Elmo to know that I came to their homes.”
Smith said she filed the complaint because she believes the undue influence statute in the Minnesota State Statutes Fair Campaign Practices was violated. Undue influence is any act of persuasion that overcomes free will and judgment of another.
“Removing my literature from resident’s homes denies me the ability to share pertinent information with residents,” she said. “They no longer have the opportunity to review and analyze all relevant information to make an informed vote on Election Day.”
In coming to the decision not to pursue the incident further, one of the attorneys involved in the conflict counsel, Trevor S. Oliver of Kelly & Lemmons, P.A., cited several factors involved in the decision: Johnston has no criminal record; there was no evidence of systematic or coordinated removal of the campaign materials by the mayor; the conduct didn’t appear likely to be repeated, and the item was returned quickly.
“The attorneys absolutely did not give an opinion to the legitimacy of my claim, but rather they stated that in their opinion the cost of justice, or prosecuting this case, outweighs the benefit in this matter,” Smith said. “People may think these types of campaign violations do not warrant prosecution because of cost but I disagree. Perhaps if there were real consequences to actions of this nature, there would be real change in how individuals campaign in the future.”
Johnston’s responded to Smith’s filing by e-mail:
“It is clear to me that Ms. Smith did not get the result she wanted from the Washington County Attorney and she is now shopping for a more favorable ruling on the same incident that the county attorney has already determined does not violate any campaign laws,” Johnston wrote.
Fred Fink, criminal division chief for the Washington County Attorney’s Office, wrote a letter to Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Brian Mueller saying that attorneys found “nothing to indicate that this is a campaign law violation.”
However, Fink added in his letter to Mueller that, “If any law is implicated, it would be the theft statute, which, of course, in this case would fall within the purview of the city attorney.”