Sunday, November 27, 2005

Perlstein and Bell: Eibensteiner was the victim

This was in today's Star Tribune. The title says it all.

Mitch Pearlstein and Peter Bell: Eibensteiner was the victim in this sorry case

Permit us to add a coda to the recent acquittal of former Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner on charges he orchestrated an illegal campaign contribution in 2002. ("Coda" is a fancy word for, "We're grateful our longtime friend and colleague was acquitted on every single count against him, though we remain steamed that he and his family had to fend off such a baseless and unfair prosecution to begin with.")

Did this sorry episode reinforce the fact that state and federal campaign finance laws rival state and federal tax codes for the confusion they cause and the lack of respect they engender? Obviously. Yet complexity was never a germane point in this case, as Ron was never confused about the law's prohibitions and he never did anything wrong.

Oh, we need to amend that. He did, in fact, sign a form letter without reading it first. Given that the two of us have signed thousands of form letters in our lives, we trust it's not unreasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe we've affixed our names to pieces of paper we should have crumpled and tossed instead. There for the grace of good staff work -- and the fact that no one ever purloined any of our form letters from someone else's home -- we've been spared. Ron, unfortunately, was not nearly as lucky.

This last point raises profound questions about prosecutorial overreach. We're both big on law and order. But it's profoundly useful every once in a while to grasp the extraordinary power of county attorneys and other prosecutors -- not only to bring down outlaws -- but also to bring low and hurt perfectly innocent people.

Put aside the emotional roller coaster to which Ron and his family were recklessly subjected, and just follow the real money crime at issue: How much do you think it cost Ron to defend himself against charges that never should have been brought in the first place?

A final and fair question for us would be: Is this letter spurred in any way by the fact that Ron Eibensteiner is a very good friend, and we're not the least bit happy whenever years of generosity and civic-mindedness by very good friends are overshadowed for no just purpose?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we're guilty.

Mitch Pearlstein, Minneapolis, is founder and president emeritus of the Center of the American Experiment. Peter Bell is chair of the Metropolitan Council.



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