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Lakeville school board member accused of campaign finance violations

6December 2021

A Lakeville school board member accused of violating campaign finance laws will pay a $250 fine under a recent settlement agreement.

Under the settlement, board member Cinta Schmitz and Kami Sanders, a Lakeville resident who filed a campaign finance complaint against her Oct. 26, agreed that Schmitz would admit to the violations and pay the fine.

“There’s no denying that errors were made,” Schmitz said. “There’s just a lot of stuff that goes into campaigning.”

There was “more wrong than right” with Schmitz’s campaign finance reports, Sanders said. She and her attorney, Matt Little, declined an offer from Schmitz and her attorney, David Asp, to settle the case by requiring the board member to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper explaining the importance of accurate campaign finance reporting.

“I think this was the best result for my client,” Little said. The $250 fine is “decently large” compared to those in similar cases, he said.

Little said Schmitz’s campaign failed to disclose some contributions and that expenses and disclosures were written incorrectly. For some contributions, a full name, address and occupation of the donor weren’t listed, he said.

“Errors were made that impact the information that voters have,” Little said. The “entire purpose of having campaign financial disclosure” is so people can use that information when voting, he said..

Schmitz said she was initially surprised to learn of the complaint because she asked numerous people for assistance with campaign finance reporting and consulted the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office. She has since submitted amended campaign finance reports.

According to the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, five campaign complaints involving school board races were filed in the state in 2021. Of those, three alleged campaign finance reporting violations.

Fewer complaints were likely filed this year than in major election years, which usually garner more attention and complaints, said Kendra Schmit, communications director for the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Schmitz was part of a conservative wave of school board and City Council candidates who ran for office this fall, some as part of organized, multi-candidate slates.

Her website says she aims to “keep divisive policies that teach racism and intolerance with different ethnic backgrounds or skin colors — whether it is called CRT (Critical Race Theory) or any other equity-related term — out of our schools.”

She said she wants parents to be “well-represented” in educational decisions and able to make “medical decisions for their kids, including decisions regarding masks and vaccines.”

The Secretary of State’s office sends out a 60-page manual to local office candidates unless the county runs the election, said Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association. In those cases, candidates pick up the manual at county offices, Abbott said.

“Whether they read it or not or understand it, that’s a different thing,” he said.

Jeff Sigurdson, executive director of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said it’s “pretty rare” for campaign finance reporting complaints to be filed in school board races “simply because it’s not a lot of money.”

Campaign finance reports are “the one way of monitoring that candidates are following the rules,” Sigurdson said.

Schmitz called the complaint and the Office of Administrative Hearings process “a blessing in disguise” because now she better understands what’s required. In the future, she said, she would hire “an expert” to do the reporting for her.

“These errors were made in good faith,” she said. “Could things have gone better? Sure, of course.”

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