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DFL fined $100,000 by campaign finance board

Photographs of 13 political candidates — including some of Alan Oberloh — were not made publicly available. The DFL Senate campaign was fined $100,000. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — A $100,000 fine was assessed against the Minnesota DFL Senate campaign by the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board earlier this week after it determined Democratic campaign organizations improperly worked together.

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The board found that 13 candidates coordinated photos for mailings sent out by the Senate committee.

Included in the list of candidates is Worthington Mayor and former DFL Senate candidate Alan Oberloh.

“I’ve come to find out afterward, there is something called Flickr, it’s like a holding area for photos,” Oberloh explained. “When this came about, supposedly, the Republican Party researched all of the ads that were done on behalf of DFL candidates. Then they would look on this Flickr to see if those photos that were used were available to the public. There were two photos that were taken of me supposedly that were not available to them.”

The fine was one of the largest in state history for a campaign violation. Democratic leaders agreed to pay the fine, but denied any wrongdoing.

State campaign finance rules forbid collaboration between candidate campaigns and independent groups, such as the Senate Democratic committee. For the mailings to be permissible, the candidates should not have any input.

“They were pictures of my face. They weren’t pictures of anything to speak of,” Oberloh said. “There was nothing that was like me in front of the White House or something. It’s not like I was somebody important. It was me, and I think there might have been a U.S. flag in the background. They got worked up about it, so my name was dragged through the mud, and I didn’t really appreciate it. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

While the fine is levied against the caucus campaign committee, no penalties will be assessed against the DFL party, the individual candidates or the candidates’ own campaign committees.

“Nobody locally that helped me out or worked with me did anything wrong,” Oberloh said. “It was done at the caucus level. If there was wrongdoing, and they settled, whether or not they are admitting it, they will have to make that call.”

According to the report from the board, “each candidate’s involvement consisted, at a minimum, of actively participating in a photo shoot. In each case the candidate was advised of the starting time and location for the photo shoot and arrived as required. In each case the candidate fully cooperated in the photo shoot itself, posing and taking direction as instructed by the photographer.”

Some of the candidates were involved in selecting locations and brought different attire to provide a variety of looks.

Oberloh said he was in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area when he was asked to allow someone to take his picture.

“I never saw the individual who took the photo before,” he said. “I didn’t know him. The photos in question were taken in front of some kind of memorial in front of the Capitol. I and another guy and Janice (Oberloh’s wife) were asked to go there. I guess this guy was there to take pictures. It was as simple as that. It was 15 minutes at the most.”

Lit Happens, a political media consulting company based in Minneapolis, was retained by the Senate Caucus Party Unit to design, produce and distribute communications advocating the election of Oberloh. According to an exhibit in the board’s findings, the invoice was for $7,611.12. Because the photos were not independent, the expenditures were reclassified, causing some spending limits to be exceeded. However, Oberloh’s campaign did not have excess expenditures. In total, $133,557.13 in excess expenditure was reported.

“In each case, the photo shoot was conducted solely for the purpose of acquiring images that the Senate Caucus Party Unit intended to use in independent expenditure communications,” the board wrote. “The candidates’ participation not only directly supported, but was a prerequisite to the ability of the Senate Caucus Party Unit to make those communications in the form ultimately distributed. The Senate Caucus Party Unit acknowledges that it could not locate publicly available quality images that would provide the visual messages that it wished to convey.”

Oberloh said the pictures in question were taken in the Twin Cities, but that was not the reason for his trip.

“I was in St. Paul for another meeting and met with this individual,” Oberloh said. “When they asked me about it later on, and I was under oath, they asked if I knew this man. I wouldn’t know him if I saw him right now; I don’t know his name.

“In my case, I was up there, and the guy I went to see worked for the caucus,” he continued. “He says, ‘We have a guy here who would like to take some photos.’ But it wasn’t like I was going to Rickers Studio. Actually, I went to (Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities), I was the president that year.”

Of the 13 candidates listed, 11 went on to win election. Only Oberloh and Laurie McKendry were defeated.

“Do I believe it assisted any candidate in winning an election? Absolutely not,” Oberloh said. “It was a simple photograph. It wasn’t like it was a photograph of something else; it was a photo of the candidate.”

As for Oberloh, his days of running for state office are finished.

“I’m not ever running again,” he said. “This running for state office will never, ever happen again in my life. Nobody has to waste their time trying to recruit me.”