In a video taken during a private fundraiser Saturday on the Iron Range, former U.S. Sen. Al Franken took to task Rep. Pete Stauber for failing to come out against foreign spending which may have aided Republicans during the 2018 midterm elections.
“He hasn’t condemned this at all,” Franken said. “What the hell? Is he so afraid of Trump? Is he so afraid of (Rep. Tom) Emmer that he won’t condemn money from Russian-Ukrainians coming in to do — (to) finance — negative ads against an American politician? Shame on Stauber.”
Franken was the keynote speaker at an Iron Range DFL fundraiser in Hibbing. His address came a day after the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party issued a news release Friday outlining how illegal campaign money was alleged to have been spent throughout federal campaigns in Minnesota during the 2018 midterms.
The Stauber campaign declined to comment for this story.
The money, totaling $325,000, had been allegedly funneled into the America First super PAC by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman using a shell corporation. The two men were arrested last week prior to boarding a plane to leave the country. They've been charged with four counts each, including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud. The men are associates of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
America First spent $3.2 million in media ads attacking DFL congressional candidate Joe Radinovich, Stauber’s opponent in the 2018 election, the DFL said.
“America First spent more money in support of Pete Stauber than in any other Republican candidate across the nation,” the DFL said.
When reached for comment by the News Tribune, Radinovich declined to address the revelation. Since losing the election to Stauber, R-Hermantown, Radinovich has moved on to become executive director of the Minnesota Hemp Association.
Super PACs are independent groups allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations and special interest groups, among others. The money is often referred to as “dark money.” Super PACs and politicians’ campaigns are prevented from coordinating with one another, but the boundaries can often blur.
“These two guys … gave $325,000 to this PAC that spent $3 million against Joe,” Franken said. “Now, this is an independent expenditure, so Stauber can easily say, ‘Well, I’m not supposed to know about this. I don’t know about it.’ OK, he can say that, but he hasn’t said that, and he hasn’t said it because he has said nothing — nothing!”
A spokesman with the Stauber campaign said it would be illegal for the congressman to comment about a Super PAC. But University of Minnesota Duluth political science professor Cindy Rugeley said such commenting would not fall under coordination.
“Just saying they can’t comment on anything would be a very, very conservative interpretation of the law,” she said. “It’s not like him answering questions is him sitting down with them or signaling to them how to spend money.”
The video of Franken’s comments appeared on the Facebook page for Minnesota 8th Congressional District Discussion, a public group on Facebook. Franken's comments came in front of an applauding audience.
Fundraisers are almost always closed to the media, allowing politicians and others to speak off the cuff and in a more direct and even coarse way. In this case, the video was uploaded within a couple hours of Saturday’s event.
The fundraiser had been notable for the return of Franken to the political realm. He resigned from the Senate in 2018, following allegations from a number of women about unwanted advances and inappropriate touching in public. His downfall came amid the height of the #MeToo movement. In July, Franken told The New Yorker that he regretted his decision to resign.
The New Yorker story and subsequent launch of a radio show in September have marked a return to public life for Franken.
His appearance at the Iron Range DFL fundraiser was heralded by some as a possible return to the political arena. It’s unknown if Franken would entertain another candidacy or if he’ll be content to weigh in from the sidelines. Immediately following his targeting of Stauber, the former senator turned his attention to the Oval Office.
“Can you imagine you find out that this foreign money came in for your campaign to help you and it’s two days later and you haven’t said a damn thing?” Franken said. “There is something really rotten in this country right now. There’s something really rotten and it’s Donald Trump.”