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Judge finds probable cause for 2 campaign law violations by Franzen in County Board race

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen failed to file an initial campaign finance report within 14 days of spending more than $750 and failed to disclose on her door hangers a mailing address or a website at which a mailing address could be found for the committee that prepared and paid for the material.

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Troy Scheffler, representing himself, and Rosemary Franzen, represented by Attorney R. Reid LeBeau II, participated in the Oct. 18 probable cause hearing occurring via phone conference before Administrative Law Judge Jessica A. Palmer-Denig.
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BRAINERD — An administrative law judge found probable cause for two campaign law violations by Crow Wing County Commissioner Rosemary Franzen.

The order issued Friday, Oct. 21, states probable cause exists to believe Franzen violated two separate provisions of the Fair Campaign Practices Act — Chapter 211A concerning campaign financial reports and Chapter 211B concerning fair campaign practices. The judge’s order comes after an Oct. 18 probable cause hearing on the matter, prompted by an Oct. 3 complaint filed by Troy Scheffler, Franzen’s opponent in the Crow Wing County Board race to represent District 4.

“Franzen has been in office for well over 20 years; she knows she is deliberately breaking the law to mislead the public,” Scheffler wrote in the conclusion of his complaint. “She clearly knows the disclosure laws exist and how they function and the same is in a packet distributed by the county to each candidate upon filing for office. … Franzen’s actions are deliberate and without mistake in intentional or reckless disregard of the law.”

Rosemary Franzen headshot
Crow Wing County Commissioner Rosemary Franzen.
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Franzen failed to file an initial campaign finance report within 14 days of spending more than $750 on her campaign and failed to disclose on her campaign door hangers a mailing address or a website at which a mailing address could be found for the committee that prepared and paid for the material. Administrative Law Judge Jessica A. Palmer-Denig determined there was no probable cause for a third violation alleged by Scheffler, in which he argued Franzen did not prominently display on her campaign signs the disclosure of who prepared and paid for the signs. That claim was dismissed.

The matter will proceed to a panel of three administrative law judges, who will issue a written decision determining whether violations occurred. The panel may issue a reprimand, impose a civil penalty, refer the complaint to the appropriate county attorney or dismiss the complaint. Parties may submit final written arguments on the merits of the decision and regarding the penalty, if any.

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Troy Scheffler headshot
Troy Scheffler.
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In an Oct. 12 order, Palmer-Denig stated Scheffler established prima facie violations for three of four claims alleged in his initial complaint, which sent those three claims to the next step of determining probable cause. The judge dismissed Scheffler’s fourth claim alleging Franzen failed to disclose in her campaign finance report an itemized list of donations exceeding $100. Palmer-Denig determined Scheffler did not establish this claim with facts.

Scheffler, representing himself, and Franzen, represented by Attorney R. Reid LeBeau II, participated in the Oct. 18 probable cause hearing occurring via phone conference before Palmer-Denig, an administrative law judge with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.

Campaign finance

The first violation for which the administrative law judge determined probable cause concerned Franzen’s campaign finance reporting. State law requires a candidate who receives contributions or makes disbursements of more than $750 to file an initial financial report within 14 days of receiving or disbursing.

Franzen filed a report Oct. 3 listing $600 in campaign contributions and a $1,065.97 expenditure for door hangers completed Aug. 26. Based on the disbursement date, Scheffler contended Franzen should have filed her report by Sept. 9 to comply with the law. Scheffler also argued Franzen only filed the report Oct. 3 because he posted about her failure to do so on Facebook two days earlier.

Under questioning by her attorney during the probable cause hearing, Franzen stated she’d never met the contribution or disbursement thresholds to be required to file a campaign finance report during past campaigns and was not aware of deadlines.

Franzen said during a recent conversation, another county commissioner mentioned campaign finance reporting to her and told her the deadline to file was Oct. 24. This prompted her to file the report, according to Franzen, not Scheffler’s Facebook post, which she said she did not see because Scheffler blocked her along with members of her family and some friends.

Under cross-examination by Scheffler, Franzen conceded she failed to file the report in time and acknowledged awareness of the laws at issue for approximately 20 years.

This year marks the sixth campaign for public office by Franzen since 2002, when she was elected to the Baxter City Council as the top vote-getter in a field of five. In 2006, she defeated Gary Walters by 110 votes to join the Crow Wing County Board. Four years later, she topped Gene Goedker by 989 votes to win reelection, and in 2014, Franzen bested Beth Pfingsten by 705 votes. Franzen ran unopposed in 2018.

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Disclosures

The second violation for which the judge determined probable cause centered on Franzen’s two-sided campaign door hangers. State law requires most types of campaign material to prominently display the name and address of the person or committee causing the material to be prepared or disseminated.

Franzen’s door hanger failed to disclose a mailing address or website at which a mailing address could be found for Volunteers for Franzen. Instead, the disclaimer stated “Prepared and Paid for by Volunteers for Franzen” without the additional information.

Both sides of Rosemary Franzen's door hanger
Both sides of a door hanger distributed as part of Commissioner Rosemary Franzen's 2022 campaign for reelection to the Crow Wing County Board are pictured. An administrative law judge determined probable cause existed that Franzen violated campaign laws by failing to disclose a mailing address or website for "Volunteers for Franzen" on the door hanger.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Franzen’s phone number and email address were listed on the other side of the door hanger, which LeBeau argued made the door hangers substantially compliant with the law. But Palmer-Denig noted the statute explicitly requires a mailing address or website containing a mailing address.

Scheffler also claimed in his complaint Franzen violated the same state law concerning her yard signs. Although Franzen included a mailing address on this disclosure, Scheffler argued the microscopic size of the disclosure broke the law because it did not amount to a prominent display.

“To even notice the disclosure, a person must be within a couple feet of the sign which is impractical not only from the perspective of needing to leave your vehicle, but that a person would in most situations need to travel upon private property to actually read the disclosure,” Scheffler wrote.

A Rosemary Franzen campaign sign
A campaign sign for Rosemary Franzen, candidate for reelection to the Crow Wing County Board, is pictured. The disclosure listed on the bottom left of the sign was the subject of a complaint from Franzen's opponent Troy Scheffler, although an administrative law judge found no probable cause to determine the disclosure violated campaign laws.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

During the probable cause hearing, Franzen said the signs are the same ones she’s used since she first ran for County Board in 2006, and LeBeau said this is the first time anyone’s complained about the disclosure.

The judge determined no probable cause existed for this violation, finding the law does not define what constitutes a prominent disclaimer for campaign signs.

“Contrary to Complainant’s assertions, there is no requirement that disclaimers on lawn signs be in large enough font to be visible by individuals while driving past or from 5 feet away,” the probable cause order states. “ … The disclaimer is in the form required and substantially complies with the statute.”

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CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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