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State v. Eibensteiner

December 28, 2004

STATE OF MINNESOTA, APPELLANT,
v.
RONALD E. EIBENSTEINER, RESPONDENT.



Mower County District Court File No. K4-03-1469.

Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. In reviewing a challenge to the evidentiary basis for an indictment, the district court may consider only the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.

2. Evidence that establishes within a reasonable probability that a defendant aided and abetted an indirect corporate campaign contribution in support of or in opposition to a campaign for political office is sufficient to establish probable cause for indictment under Minn. Stat. § 211B.15, subd. 2 (2002).

3. Evidence that establishes within a reasonable probability that a defendant solicited or knowingly received an indirect corporate campaign contribution made by an insurance company doing business in Minnesota is sufficient to establish probable cause for indictment under Minn. Stat. § 72A.12, subd. 5 (2002).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge

Reversed and remanded; motion granted in part and denied in part

OPINION

The state appeals from a pretrial order dismissing a grand jury indictment that charged respondent with violating laws prohibiting corporate campaign contributions. The state argues that the district court erred in ruling that the case was not properly venued in Mower County and that the evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause to proceed. We reverse and remand.

FACTS

A Mower County grand jury returned an indictment, charging respondent Ronald Eibensteiner with aiding and abetting two violations of Minn. Stat. § 211B.15, subd. 2 (2002), which prohibits both direct and indirect corporate campaign contributions made to promote or defeat a candidate for political office. The indictment also charged Eibensteiner with two counts of violating Minn. Stat. § 72A.12, subd. 5 (2002), which prohibits soliciting or knowingly receiving political campaign contributions from an insurance company. The grand jury's findings of fact in support of the charged offenses were summarized in the indictment and alleged that:

Defendant, Harry Bassett, Jr., is the Vice President of government relations of the [A]ssurant [G]roup. Within the [A]ssurant [G]roup is the Defendant American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida. Defendant Jerome Atkinson is general counsel for [A]ssurant [G]roup and American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida. The Defendants Harry Bassett, Jr., and Jerome Atkinson, on behalf of the Defendant [C]orporation American Bankers, and within the scope of their authority, made two corporate campaign contributions to the Republican Party. The contributions were made on or about September 9, 2002, ($10,000.00) and on or about October 17, 2002 ($5,000.00).

According to the Defendants Bassett and Atkinson, the corporate contributions were made to influence the outcome of the Minnesota State governor's election. Their purpose was to defeat [I]ndependent candidate Tim Penny because Penny had made it known that he was going to retain the Commerce [C]commissioner, James Bernstein. At the time of these contributions, the Defendants American Bankers, Bassett and Atkinson had an administrative action pending with the Commerce [C]commissioner, Bernstein.

Defendant Ronald E. Eibensteiner was the chair of the Republican Party in the State of Minnesota. According to Defendant Eibensteiner, the first corporate check of $10,000.00 was received by his political committee on or about September 9, 2002, and his committee forwarded the check to the National Republican Committee. The National Committee then sent the money back to the state Republican Party. After this contribution, on September 9, 2002, Defendant Ronald Eibensteiner sent a letter as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota thanking the Defendant American Bankers Insurance Company and soliciting it for more funds. On October 17, 2002, Defendant American Bankers Insurance Company, through Defendants Harry Bassett and Jerome Atkinson, sent another $5,000.00 corporate contribution check. The money was again sent to the National Republican Party and then sent back to the state Republican Party. The state Republican Party, after receiving the $15,000.00, spent money in Mower County promoting the election of Tim Pawlenty.

The grand jury received as an exhibit a letter sent by Eibensteiner to Ronald Jerich, a lobbyist for American Bankers Insurance Company (American Bankers). The letter, dated September 9, 2002, states:

Dear Ron, Hi!

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for obtaining from American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida a $10,000 contribution to the R.N.S.E.C. (Republican National State Election Committee). I believe that we share the same goal in making the Republican Party the majority in the new Millennium.

As you know, this is a pivotal year for the Republican Party and Minnesota has been targeted as a key state this year. That means the pressure has been put on us to raise enough money to make sure our major candidates, Norm Coleman to replace Paul Wellstone, Tim Pawlenty for Governor, and John Kline to replace Bill Luther (in the new 2nd District), can win.

Our overall budget for this year requires us to raise $7.3 million, a daunting goal. Of that amount, $1.5 million has been earmarked for a media buy to promote Tim Pawlenty for Governor . . . the media ads begin running Labor Day weekend.

With the General Election only 58 days away, we are pleased that your contribution will help us accomplish our budget goal. Without the necessary funds to support our candidates, we could end up disappointing President Bush. He needs our support, right here in Minnesota, to make sure we can make Minnesota a Republican state!

Once again, we appreciate your help and the contribution of $10,000 from American Bankers Insurance; it will go a long way in helping to make the Republican Party the majority President Bush needs right now.

Yours very truly, Ronald E. Eibensteiner, Chair, Republican Party of Minnesota. Thanks so much!

P.S. Since we're not sure who to thank at American Bankers Insurance, if you would do that on our ...


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