By Jourdan Vian
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBT) — A Democratic financial watchdog group this week filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn alleging he received illegal contributions for Mankato, Minn., office space.
Hagedorn’s campaign Wednesday called the complaint “much ado about nothing.”
The complaint by End Citizens United says Hagedorn, a Republican who represents Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, did not report illegal corporate in-kind contributions of office space or related accommodations and, depending on their value, may have accepted contributions in excess of legal limits.
The group is seeking an immediate investigation by the FEC and enforcement action against Hagedorn, the Friends of Hagedorn organization and the Friends of Hagedorn treasurer Thomas Datwyler for the violations, according to the complaint.
The Friends of Hagedorn has used the Brett’s Building in Mankato as its official address since 2013, according to the complaint, and used it for campaign activities. The complaint cited a Politico story published Friday, which outlined how Hagedorn used the building, owned by a political donor, but did not report any payments for the use of the space in seven years.
“This is damning evidence that Hagedorn broke the law and now he’s lying through his teeth to cover it up,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, in an emailed statement.
Muller charges that because the building was owned for much of that time by a company — which was in turn owned by a large Hagedorn donor — Hagedorn’s failure to report the rent constitutes “illegal corporate contributions.”
Hagedorn’s campaign took to Facebook Oct. 9 to deny the accuracy of the Politico report. It said he did not have a campaign office in the building, rather he used it as a P.O. Box.
“This article, written by a Democrat operative who has filed several misleading negative stories during this campaign, is 💯% completely false. Even liberal Politico should know better,” the campaign said in the Facebook statement. “The false claim and smear is that my campaign was given rent-free office space, Suite 007 in the old Brett’s Building in Mankato, since 2013. Absolutely not true!
“We did rent unfurnished space in the basement of the old Brett’s Building from March 2018 through November 7, 2018. We paid the owner $100 and listed that on our FEC report. Case closed,” the statement went on to say. “By the way, the picture Politico used for this fake news story is from our 2018 election night party, which was held in the Event Center in Mankato. We rented that room for the night.”
Hagedorn reiterated his denial Wednesday in an emailed statement, saying the address was a U.S. Postal Service post office box.
“Keys for the Post Office Box were received from the USPS, and the Brett’s Building owner never charged anyone for mailbox use over a period of 26 years, thus we were treated equally and not charged, which complies with all laws, rules and regulations,” the campaign said in a statement.
The complaint says the Friends of Hagedorn does not show any disbursements for the relevant period and End Citizens United disputes that $100 could be a fair price for the space. Politico reported that office space in the building rents for $8 per square foot.
Muller asked that the FEC look into whether the true cost of the office space for those eight months would constitute an illegally large in-kind donation. In 2018, any campaign was only allowed to take in $2,700 per primary or general election from a single donor.
Hagedorn’s district extends across southern Minnesota from the border with Wisconsin to the border of South Dakota. He is running against Democrat Dan Feehan in the Nov. 3 election.
Read the complaint here.