Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pioneer Press: Bill Cooper: Pursuit of Eibensteiner was political persecution

This is from today's Pioneer Press.

It is yet another editrial, this time from former MNGOP Chairman Bill Cooper, on why Eibenstiener was never guilty.


It's no secret that Ron Eibensteiner and I have had our differences. I actively supported Eibensteiner's successful opponent, Ron Carey, for Minnesota Republican Party chairman in June.

Regardless of my differences, I feel it is appropriate, as a former Republican chairman, to express my views on his recent trial and acquittal for campaign finance violations.

These charges against Eibensteiner were a McCarthy-like attempt by Attorney General Mike Hatch to persecute, not prosecute, Eibensteiner for his political activities on behalf of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Republican Party. Hatch used the vast power and resources of his office to punish a political enemy, Eibensteiner, on trumped-up charges.

Here are the facts:

• Hatch's personal friend and DFL lobbyist, Ron Jerich, directs corporate political contributions to both Democrat and Republican national committees from a Florida insurance company (American Bankers Insurance) in trouble with Minnesota regulators. Jerich was a lobbyist for the company. The corporate contributions were made to the national committees, rather than the state parties, because corporate contributions are illegal in Minnesota.

These contributions were supposedly made to defeat gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny, who said he was likely to retain Jesse Ventura's commerce commissioner — whom the insurance company would have liked to replace.

• Hatch previously pursued a settlement that would have the insurance company make a charitable contribution to a "pet" health organization rather than pay a fine. The strategy failed when the commerce commissioner determined that it was illegal.

Hatch had settled other cases in a similar manner in the past, which led to a law to stop this practice. Hatch was unhappy about the failure of American Bankers to make this charitable contribution but later denied that he proposed that settlement. The legislative auditor described Hatch's attempt to divert the settlement as "confusing, deceptive and ultimately ineffective."

• Hatch was at Jerich's house for an event to help DFL candidates when he saw a bust of Ronald Reagan. Jerich said he received the bust and a thank-you letter for the donation from Eibensteiner.

• Hatch took the letter, apparently without Jerich's permission, and had his staff leak it to the Pioneer Press (and where is the outrage about government officials leaking data to the press for political purposes?).

• Eibensteiner never met Jerich or the individuals associated with the insurance company, and had no involvement in the settlement or the political contribution. All Eibensteiner did was sign a poorly written form letter drafted by staff to Jerich thanking him for the contribution.

• After the legislative auditor found no wrongdoing by the Pawlenty administration, Robb Leighton, a former DFL state representative and Hatch ally, sent the legislative auditor's report to DFL activist Lee Bjorndal, who sent it to the Mower County Attorney and suggested he investigate whether there was a violation of Minnesota's ban on corporate campaign contributions.

• There is no evidence the contribution to the national party was transferred back to Minnesota. National Republican officials testified that no corporate contributions were transferred to Minnesota. While American Bankers made donations to both the national party organizations, no investigation or charges were ever filed against the DFL or its chairman for the contribution to the national Democratic Party. Only Republicans were investigated and prosecuted

Hatch transferred state money from his budget to Mower County to help pay for the investigation and prosecution of Eibensteiner and testified at the trial. In exchange for dropping the charges against it, American Bankers paid $1 million to the county that was to be used to pay for the continued actions against Eibensteiner.

• After the not guilty verdict, Jerich stated, "This thing should never have been brought to trial in the first place. There's no doubt in my mind that Hatch perpetrated the whole thing to get at Republicans."

This is a pure and simple case of a government official, DFL Attorney General Mike Hatch, using the vast power and finances of his office to persecute a political enemy. It is part of a disturbing pattern. Hatch is now progressing with a similar persecution against the current Republican Party chair, Ron Carey.

Political assassination by public officials at taxpayer expense is dangerous stuff and should be condemned by all Minnesotans.

Cooper of Wayzata is a former Minnesota Republican Party chairman. (Source: Pioneer Press, Nov. 29, 2005)



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