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State Senator Sends Mailer With False Endorsement Claims

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State Senator Sandy Pappas, a 32-year incumbent, sent out a mailer that claimed endorsements from 10 elected officials and others from in and around West St. Paul—four of whom said they have not officially endorsed Pappas.

“I was surprised to see my photo and name listed on a mailer,” said John Justen, a West St. Paul City Council Member. Along with Justen, fellow Council Members Wendy Berry, Julie Eastman, and Lisa Eng-Sarne all said they had not endorsed Pappas nor been asked for an endorsement.

“I’m furious,” said Eastman, who today endorsed one of Pappas’ opponents. “All I can say is this mailing was poorly handled, lacks transparency, and, seems to me, unethical. It’s hard to build trust in our community if this is how a campaign starts.”

Sandy Pappas mailer with false endorsement claims.
The Sandy Pappas mailer claims 10 people endorsed Pappas. Matt Klein, Rick Hansen, Joe Atkins, John Zanmiller, Robyn Gulley, and Jamie Gulley all confirm endorsing Pappas. Wendy Berry, Lisa Eng-Sarne, John Justen, and Julie Eastman confirm they did not endorse Pappas.

Pappas’ Response

“Many of them were delegates and supported me at the convention,” Pappas said. “They’re all DFLers, I made the assumption that they were supporting me, and it’s true, I neglected to get that in writing.”

Only three of the 10 names listed on Pappas’ mailer were delegates who attended the Senate District 65 convention. Justen was among those, but Berry, Eastman, and Eng-Sarne were not. Eng-Sarne isn’t even in Pappas’ district. 

While West St. Paul City Council is a nonpartisan position, members have their own views and the four do support the DFL party. While Pappas did receive the DFL endorsement, that does not equate to individual support—especially considering the DFL has a three-way primary for the race this year.

“State statute says endorsements have to be made in writing,” said Berry. “When I first ran, Rick Hansen, Jenny Halverson, and Darlene Lewis drilled that into me. And it’s in the campaign manual they sent to candidates this year.”

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s 2022 Campaign Manual gives a clear summary of state law concerning false claims of support: “A person or candidate may not state in written campaign material that the candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of an individual without first getting written permission from the individual to do so.” (see page 28)

“My campaign manager did try to follow up with them, but she just wasn’t able to reach everyone,” Pappas said. “And we were under a deadline to get to the printer.”

Most of the photos on the mailer were taken at a June 28 fundraiser for Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins. Pappas met with the four on several other occasions, but never had a conversation about endorsement. 

“The conversation was, ‘Will you do a photo with me?’ And in some cases, like with Julie, we sat down and had coffee together and did a photo,” Pappas said. “I will have to ask them what did they think I was going to do with that photo? But you’re totally right, by the letter of the law I did not get a written endorsement from them.” 

Even for those who did officially endorse Pappas, she admits it often came as a verbal request.

“That was our responsibility,” Pappas said. “I will certainly talk to each of them and apologize.”

The Fallout

Earlier today, Eastman announced her endorsement of one of Pappas’ opponents in the primary, Sheigh Freeberg.

“Every time I have a conversation with Sheigh about what is going on in West St. Paul he beams with excitement,” Eastman said. “He cannot say enough positive things about our community. He thinks that all of the work that we have done is a great example for other cities that are working on similar opportunities. And it starts with our community members and all their passion they have for WSP.”

Potential Impact

These kinds of campaign violations are handled by the Office of Administrative Hearings, though someone would have to file a complaint, which requires a $50 filing fee. Potential consequences could include a civil penalty up to $5,000, but more likely it’d be a minimal fine of a few hundred dollars.

The bigger question might be how this impacts the state senate race going forward and potential relationships with elected officials in West St. Paul, assuming Pappas wins. Some people expressed fears about damaging a relationship with a senator as the city tries to pursue state bonding dollars. Pappas is the ranking minority member on the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which determines what projects get bonding money.

Earlier this year, redistricting added the northern half of West St. Paul to Pappas’ district. At the time, many expressed fears that West St. Paul would get less attention from state legislators. Pappas disagreed, pointing to her efforts to reach out to West St. Paul. “I think West St. Paul is very important,” she said.

Pappas faces Freeberg and Zuki Ellis in the August 9 primary. In recent years, Pappas has faced primary challenges in 2020 and 2012, winning with 64% and 77% of the vote, respectively. See our primary voter’s guide for more information on the race.

“I hope this gets out there and I hope people pay attention to it,” Eastman said. “I hope they ask themselves, ‘Is this the candidate I really want to support?’” 

West St. Paul Reader provides neighborhood news supported by neighbors. Become a member today.

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