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Election complaint tests new system

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Becker County Board candidate Larry Knutson had his hand slapped this week by an administrative law judge, who found probable cause that he has violated state campaign law by not including a disclaimer on yard signs.

Knutson, in what could be a cautionary tale for all candidates, faces an administrative fine of up to $5,000 if a three-judge panel determines that he has violated the law, according to Mary Beth Gossman, staff attorney for the state Office of Administrative Hearings in Minneapolis.

The panel could opt to dismiss the case, but if it finds there was a violation, punishment could range from a simple reprimand to referring the case to the Becker County attorney's office to consider misdemeanor charges.

The administrative law judge dismissed a more serious complaint that Knutson violated the state's bribery, treating and solicitation statute for giving away candy at parades at Wolf Lake and Frazee.

Judge Kathleen D. Sheehy announced her decision Tuesday, and the case now goes to the three-judge panel.

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Knutson said the remaining complaint is off base and should have been dismissed.

He said his campaign signs state: "Vote Larry Knutson, Commissioner District 1."

District 1 includes most of eastern Becker County.

State law says a person who participates in the preparation or dissemination of campaign material that does not prominently include the name and address of the person or committee causing the material to be prepared or disseminated in a disclaimer is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The statute also says the section does not apply to objects stating only the candidate's name and the office sought.

Knutson says his signs state only his name and the position sought, and the signs should be considered "objects," not campaign material.

In her ruling, the judge said "objects" referred to things like matchbook covers or pens.

The complaint was brought by Terry Kalil of rural Detroit Lakes. In an interview, she said there was nothing personal in her complaint against Knutson.

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She sent photos of four Knutson signs along with her complaint to the Office of Administrative Hearings, which this year took over responsibility for handling campaign complaints from local county attorneys.

Knutson is running against incumbent Carolyn Engebretson and challenger Jim Kovala in the primary election Sept. 14.

Kalil is campaigning for Engebretson.

Bowe is the editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune, a Forum Communications newspaper

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