The Republican Party is again being accused of encouraging people to run for office as third-party, legal marijuana candidates in key swing districts to pull votes away from Democrats in the 2020 election.
FOX 9's investigation, which aired Sunday, involves Kevin "NeSe" Shores, who is blind, disabled and suffers from Gulf War Illness. Shores told FOX 9 he got an unsolicited call in June 2020 encouraging him to run as a candidate for the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party against Democrat Collin Peterson for Minnesota's District 7 seat.
It wasn't until after the 2020 election that Shores learned Kip Christenson, the person who allegedly encouraged him to run for office and paid his $300 candidate filing fee, was a Republican strategist who was then working for the Republican National Committee (RNC), FOX 9 reports.
Shores was not on the ballot in November 2020 because he lost the August primary to opponent Rae Hart Anderson, with Shores securing 104 votes to Anderson's 215. In 2018, Anderson ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.
In the end, Peterson, the incumbent, lost to Republican Michelle Fischbach by a comfortable margin.
He secured 144,840 votes (39.85%) to Fischbach's 194,066 votes (53.39%), election results show. Anderson won 1.79% of the vote (6,499 votes) while Slater Johnson with the Legal Marijuana Now party won 4.87% of the vote (17,710 votes).
In a statement to Bring Me The News about the story, RNC spokesperson Preya Samsundar said, "The RNC has no knowledge of this, nor would we have authorized anything like what is being alleged.” Samsundar gave the same statement to FOX 9.
But FOX 9's story is just the latest to link the Republican operatives in Minnesota to third-party marijuana candidates.
Two legal marijuana parties earned major party status in Minnesota after earning more than 5% of the vote in the 2018 midterm election. Major party status means candidates in those parties don't need to collect signatures to get on the ballot in Minnesota.
In October 2020, Legal Marijuana Now candidate Adam Weeks died, causing turmoil in Minnesota's Second Congressional District. After his death, it was revealed he told a friend in May 2020 the GOP encouraged him to run for office to take votes from Democrats, according to a Star Tribune report.
In the voicemail, which the Star Tribune obtained, Weeks said Republicans were offering $15,000 to apparently assist in funding his campaign.
And the Minnesota Reformer reported last year that many of the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party and Legal Marijuana Now Party candidates in 2020 had major "MAGA (Make America Great Again) vibes," noting they posted on social media in support of former President Donald Trump but shared very little about their support of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka also came under renewed scrutiny last fall after the Minnesota DFL shared a Politico article that said he had met with a legal weed advocate named Sammy McCarty and asked him to run as a third-party candidate in a swing state Senate District.
McCarty, who identifies as a Democrat and advocates for marijuana legalization, previously told Politico he believes he was being asked to run to take votes away from Greg Clausen, the DFL incumbent in the 57th Senate District who won the seat by less than 7% in 2016. McCarty, according to his Twitter account, is now running for governor of Minnesota as a "progressive Republican."
Following FOX 9's investigation, Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin is bashing Republicans on Twitter for their alleged tactics, claiming it is "one of the biggest election frauds" in state history.
In addition to the tweets, Martin released an emailed statement Monday, in which he accused Republicans of resorting "to such cheap tricks to win elections."
“The fact that a Republican operative tricked a blind, disabled veteran into running for office is as despicable as it gets. If Minnesota law was broken, then Christianson and the Republican National Committee must be held accountable.
In Martin's statement, he also cited several instances of "fake" third-party candidates running in swing districts in 2020, including the aforementioned Second and Seventh districts,
- Robyn Smith, who admitted to being recruited by Republicans to run for Minnesota's Fifth Senate District as a third-party candidate
- The past chair of the Legal Marijuana Now Party told MPR News he believed Jaden Partlow, who ran under the party label for Minnesota's 14th Senate District, was a plant by Republicans.
Senate Republicans continue to block marijuana legalization
While the GOP seemed to benefit the most from marijuana party candidates in the 2020 election, the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate wants nothing to do with legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
The DFL-controlled House passed a historic bill on May 13 that would legalize the drug for adults to use recreationally, something that has support from voters in Minnesota.
But the proposal was dead-on-arrival in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, was vocal about his lack of support for the bill and stated several times it wouldn't get hearings nor a full Senate vote.
The session ended last week with no voting on the House bill being taken.