Johnson under scrutiny over campaign funds

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson is awaiting judgment after an administrative hearing Tuesday evaluated accusations that she misused campaign funds.

James Nord

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson is awaiting judgment after an administrative hearing Tuesday evaluated accusations that she misused campaign funds. Retired Minneapolis teacher Warren Kaari filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings in November accusing Johnson, Ward 4, of using campaign funds for personal expenditures. âÄúI thought, âÄòThis is wrong,âÄôâÄù Kaari said. âÄúThis is a person that we elected to office. This is a person that you trust to do the right things. This is a public servant. This is not a person that should be violating the law, and I believe that she violated the law.âÄù However, Corey Ayling, JohnsonâÄôs attorney, argued that according to Minnesota fair campaigning statutes, she committed no wrongdoing under the wording of the law. Kaari represented himself in front of the three-judge panel. The discussion at the hearing centered on JohnsonâÄôs use of campaign funds for dry cleaning, hair appointments and cable and cell phone service, among other expenditures, which are detailed in documents required by Hennepin County financial disclosure law. In Minnesota, accepted campaign expenditures include salaries, communications, advertising, printing, office space and furnishings and small charitable contributions, among select others. The argument revolves around if the expenses were reasonable under the wording of the Minnesota statute, and if they were personal expenses or strictly for campaigning. In defense of his position, Kaari contested the ubiquitous timing of the expenses, alleging that they should only be covered during campaign season. âÄúThe day that you quit campaigning is the day that you invite opposition; itâÄôs the day that you invite your loss,âÄù said former City Council President Louis DeMars, who was a witness for Johnson. Ayling also questioned DeMars, one of JohnsonâÄôs campaign contributors, about his position on the subject of her expenditures. âÄúWhen you contributed the money, what did you expect Barbara to do with the money you contributed?âÄù Ayling asked. DeMars responded, âÄúTo win.âÄù But Kaari criticized Johnson for attempting to get re-elected rather than serving her constituents. âÄúWe elect people to office to represent us,âÄù he said. âÄúWe donâÄôt elect people to office to abuse their office.âÄù Kaari filed his complaint after reading a City Pages article detailing JohnsonâÄôs alleged abuses. In November, Judge Manuel Cervantes ruled the case had merit and a hearing was scheduled on the subject. Due to constraints in the Minnesota statutes, the panel only reviewed expenditures within one year of the complaint. The exact time frame for the judgesâÄô decision is unknown, but will occur sometime after Feb. 17. Depending on the outcome, Johnson could face a civil penalty of up to $5,000 and could be prosecuted criminally by the appropriate county attorney. JohnsonâÄôs lawyer declined to comment after the hearing. âÄúHopefully down the road other people will be more careful on what they list as their campaign expenses,âÄù Kaari said.