ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Democratic lawmaker and candidate for state attorney general is being fined $20,000 for allegedly taking thousands in campaign contributions for personal use.
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board released a report Tuesday alleging DFL Rep. John Lesch took over $8,600 in campaign funds for personal use. Lesch claims the money, transferred from his official campaign account to his personal account through five separate transactions over four years, was reimbursement for campaign expenses. However, a lack of receipts and discrepancies in the campaign’s annual reports has caused the campaign finance board to question the use of the money.
During the investigation, which started in 2014, the board examined Lesch’s personal and campaign bank accounts and interviewed campaign treasurers. The board found some of the transactions were “indicative of a high level of inattention and carelessness.” The board also concluded the unexplained transfers occurred during times when Lesch had an “immediate need” for personal funds.
“In most cases, the [campaign] Committee funds transferred into Rep. Lesch’s personal account were used for payments by Rep. Lesch for which there would have been insufficient funds without the deposit of the [campaign] Committee funds,” the board states.
The board has levied fines against both Lesch personally and his campaign totalling $20,000. For poor recordkeeping and false annual reports, the board levied $5,000 against Lesch’s campaign committee. For the conversion of campaign funds to personal use, a violation of Minnesota Statute section 211B.12, Lesch will have to pay $15,000. The board has given Lesch 30 days to pay the fines.
“If Rep. Lesch or the John Lesch for State Representative committee does not comply with the provisions of this order, the Board’s executive director may request that the attorney general bring an action on behalf of the Board,” the board states.
Despite the findings of the investigation, Lesch, first elected to represent St. Paul in 2002, maintains his innocence.
“I acknowledge that the campaign did not maintain adequate records of its expenses,” Lesch said in a statement. “The record keeping, passage of time and changes in campaign treasurers made it difficult to reproduce the details of transactions that occurred between four and seven years ago. The Board’s conclusion that funds were converted to personal use is unfounded.”
Following the announcement of the fines against Lesch, fellow candidate for state attorney general Harry Niska took a shot at his opponent, calling the report “extraordinarily troubling.”
“Let’s be clear: ‘conversion of committee funds to personal use’ is stealing,” Niska wrote on Twitter, adding that Lesch’s actions should disqualify him from holding the office of attorney general.