The election is still months away, but already the accusations and allegations of misuse of office or funds has begun. When elected officials are seeking the same or higher office the line between campaign work and official business can become blurred.
Gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch says he tries hard to separate campaign business from his official duties as Attorney General, "I carry two phones. One is political, one is government," he told KARE-TV Tuesday.
"Although you'd be amazed how many government calls come on the political and vice versa, but we clean it up, we reimburse where appropriate."
And yet on July 27th when Governor Pawlenty announced a new website for tracking meth dealers, the Attorney General Hatch responded with his own official news conference criticizing the idea. Hatch predicted listing meth dealers online would be like creating a "Simon Delivers for meth addicts."
On that same day Hatch released a written statement on office letterhead which mentioned his running mate Judi Dutcher. The Attorney General didn't see a problem with the reference.
"I mentioned Judi Dutcher and this is important, I mentioned her in the historical context, that 2 weeks ago I proposed with Judi Dutcher."
Hatch said he included the campaign reference as a way of illustrating that he had already made meth an issue in the election, as a way of suggesting the Governor's new meth dealer website was a politically motivated response to the Hatch campaign.
The Republican Party attacked both the news conference and the news release. And this week Legislative Auditor James Nobles called the campaign reference on the official news release "inappropriate."
Since then the Minnesota GOP has peppered the media with memos pointing out the auditor's opinion, and alleging that Hatch is misusing his office.
Hatch says when it comes to rhetoric under the Capitol dome it's difficult to split politics from policy.
"You will see the Governor, as well as myself, as well as 201 legislators here refer in press conferences held on government property referring to the last campaign, or referring to future campaigns, or future sessions."
On the Judy Dutcher issue he maintains he was not trying to score political points as part of an official news conference.
"The addition of her name on a stationary didn't cost the state a nickel. And I don't believe it was done to make it a political piece. Isn't the reason I did it. I did it as a courtesy to her."
Hatch continued, "I suppose I could’ve said 2 weeks ago I issued a proposal in regard to what we should do about meth, and not mentioned her name. But I didn’t mention it for the political importance of it."
The Minnesota DFL in the meantime has targeted Governor Pawlenty's fly-arounds of the state promoting his Q-care health care purchasing plan. The party is asking how much the taxpayers are spending to aid Pawlenty's reelection effort.
"The governor, as part of that announcement did fly to a handful of cities around the state," said press secretary Brian McClung in reference to the five-city tour on July 31st.
But Mcclung calls the fly-arounds a legitimate expense, "And we think it's important for people who are outside of the Twin Cities to hear about these things directly from the Governor, as part of his role as governor, tell the people of Minnesota what state government is doing."
He also points out the Legislative Auditor Nobles has chosen to give leeway to elected officials carring out their duties during an election season.
Another recent flurry of memos to the media involve the definition of the word "prosecutor." Amy Klobuchar's TV ad touting her record as prosecutor is under fire from Republican state chairman Ron Carey.
Carey sent out several statements recently pointing out the Democratic senate candidate has never directly prosecuted a case in the courtroom as Hennepin County Attorney.
"I think that's a very shallow argument and there's no validity to it whatsoever," said veteran Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom.
Backstrom told KARE-TV Klobuchar is a prosecutor because she manages a large number of prosecutors, and oversees metro office with 400 employees.
"You become the chief prosecutor in your community from the moment you take the oath of office. And Amy Klobuchar has been an outstanding prosecutor in Minnesota."
He went on to say a county attorney would have a tough time running such a large operation while trying to take on courtroom duties. But that doesn't mean she's not involved, he insists.
"We consult on a daily basis with our assistants regarding the resolution of various criminal proceedings and cases," Backstrom said.
"Ultimately the final decision rests with the county attorney on whether a plea agreement is going to be accepted, what the final charge will be on a case."
KARE-TV also received mail from viewers pointing out 6th District congressional candidate Michele Bachmann gave up her license to practice law in 2001 but that her campaign flyers say she's a federal tax attorney.
It's true she voluntarily placed her license, which she first received in 1986, on restricted status in 2001. If you check the state's lawyer registration department Bachmann's in the
category of "not authorized."
A campaign flyer distributed last year clearly says "Michele is a federal tax litigation attorney." A biography prepared by the Bachmann for Congress Committee reads "Michele is a federal tax litigation attorney." Another letter dated October 5, 2005 and signed by Bachmann reads "I'm a federal tax litigation attorney who has spent a career fighting against high taxes on businesses and individuals."
Senator Bachmann's campaign spokesperson told KARE-TV she surprised to hear that anyone's raising this issue. But more recent news releases refer to her law career in past tense -- noting she "was" a federal tax litigation attorney.
Future tense for Bachmann? The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that President Bush campaign for her later this month when he comes to Minnesota. Vice President Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and White House political adviser Karl Rove have already headlined fundraisers for the Stillwater Republican.
By John Croman, KARE 11 News
(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)