Like many Minnetonka residents, Karl Bunday has received an influx of political mail as the city rolls out ranked-choice voting for the first time in November's municipal election.
In preparation for this new voting system, the city has been sending out brochures educating voters on how ranked-choice voting works. But Bunday was taken aback when the city's logo from the brochure also appeared on a mailer campaigning for a slate of six candidates running for two open at-large City Council seats in contested races.
At a hearing last week with the Office of Administrative Hearings, Bunday told Judge Ann C. O'Reilly that he thought the candidate mailer was misleading because it gives the false impression that the city is endorsing the candidates, which prompted Bunday to file a Fair Campaign Practices complaint this month.
"The mailing leaves open the implication that these are city-endorsed candidates to a reasonable voter," Bunday said.
O'Reilly agreed in an Oct. 22 order finding probable cause of Bunday's complaint after the hearing on Oct. 19. The matter is being referred to a panel of three administrative law judges to see if the candidates are in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices and Campaign Finance acts, specifically a state statute on false claim of support.
The six candidates named in the complaint include Bunday's neighbor of two decades, Wyn Ray, who is a real estate agent, Marshall Glynn, Karen Ahlbrecht, Stacy Cranbrook, Dan Kral and Jim Hadley.
Bunday said he holds no ill will or personal animosity toward any of the candidates and considers Ray a friend, but he wants the candidates to clarify on their campaign websites that they are not endorsed by the city and didn't mean to imply that with the mailers. He said he would be moved to dismiss the case if the candidates did that, but said he was discouraged to find out during the probable cause hearing that the mailers are still being distributed. In Bunday's complaint filing, he included the testimony of four other residents who assumed the mailer was from the city of Minnetonka.
But Ellen Cousins, who is not a lawyer but advising the six candidates and speaking on their behalf, said at the recent hearing that the complaint is "ridiculous on its face" because the mailer is using a photo of a public monument in Minnetonka at Gray's Bay Landing. Cousins told O'Reilly that she took the photo of the city of Minnetonka sign in the summer of 2020 and used the photo in mailers she helped create and disseminate to identify the offices sought by the candidates — not to imply they were endorsed or supported by the city.
Cousins said the photo is distinguishable from cutting and pasting the city's logo onto campaign material and there is a disclaimer on the mailer that states it was "prepared and paid for" by campaigns and committees for each candidate.
In a phone interview, Cousins said the candidates "stand by their campaign material" and will await a decision from the panel rather than make an acknowledgment of the issue on campaign websites like Bunday suggested.
"They look forward to the dismissal of this frivolous complaint," Cousins said on behalf of the candidates.
Bunday's complaint has several potential outcomes: It could be dismissed, the panel could issue a reprimand or impose a civil penalty up to $5,000. The panel could also refer the complaint to Hennepin County Attorney's Office for criminal charges.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751