A long-serving Minnesota state representative from St. Paul has been fined $20,000 after a years-long investigation relating to transfers to his personal account over a four year period.
The Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board published its findings on Tuesday, saying campaign cash was transferred into DFL Rep. John Lesch's personal account at times when there would have been "insufficient funds" in his account without it.
Although Lesch denied he used the funds for his own expenses, the board found his "immediate need for resources" close to the time the transfers were made "supports the board's conclusion that the transfer were for personal use."
The probe found five separate bank transactions to his personal account between 2010-2013, totaling $8,700, with investigators unable to find receipts that would serve as evidence he was reimbursing himself for campaign expenses.
Lesch, an eight-term representative first elected in 2002 who is running to become Minnesota's next attorney general, repaid just over $2,000 in 2013 and $1,000 in 2014 to the campaign account.
The Pioneer Press reports that the $20,000 fine levied by the board is one of the largest civil penalties against a lawmaker ever seen in Minnesota for campaign violations.
The newspaper notes the board often penalizes lawmakers for incorrect bookkeeping, but rarely finds them having used money for their own benefit.
Lesch denies personal use, say it's the result of bad bookkeeping
In a statement sent to media , Lesch said he was disappointed with the board's conclusions but "happy to have this matter resolved."
He said his campaign did not keep adequate records of its expenses, and that while he worked with volunteer treasurers – one of whom is his wife, Melissa – he takes responsibility for this failure.
"The Board’s conclusion that funds were converted to personal use is unfounded. It remains based solely on the absence of receipts," he added. "I deny using any campaign funds for personal purposes."
"Volunteers are the heart of campaigns in Minnesota. I stand behind the work of my campaign volunteers and treasurers and accept the absence of proper records as my responsibility.
The Star Tribune reports that the Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund has called on Lesch, a trial lawyer, to end his campaign for attorney general.
The group, which backs conservative candidates, said the board's findings show Lesch has "abused the public's trust and is completely unfit to serve" as AG.