Minnesota Republican party officials say something "really smells rotten" with fundraising and spending activities in 2003 by the Lac qui Parle County DFL.

State GOP Chairman Ron Carey said an unusually large influx of money given by Twin Cities donors to the Lac qui Parle County DFL in 2003 "raises some serious questions if money has been laundered illegally" through the county party and the Republicans plan to file a complaint seeking an investigation.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Carey said he doesn't know who benefited from the $24,500 expenditure the party made to a printing company in 2003, but suggested the money may have been used to buy lawn signs for Attorney General Mike Hatch's 2006 campaign for governor.

Carey said someone must have "coordinated" the effort to get a half-dozen Twin Cities donors to write personal checks totaling $27,500 to the Lac qui Parle County DFL Party, which then wrote a $24,500 check to Poligraphics.

Carey said that's the same printing company Hatch uses for things like printing lawn signs.

It's too much to be a coincidence, said Carey. "It didn't just happen out of the blue."

"Irresponsible speculation" is what Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota DFL Party, said of the Republican claims.

"This is Ron Carey speculating on something that happened three years ago," said McIntosh, in a telephone interview. "This is a typical Ron Carey tactic."

Carey said the Republican Party is in the process of filing a complaint with the Minnesota Campaign and Public Disclosure Board to "find out if something illegal happened" in Lac qui Parle County.

Jeff Sigurdson, assistant director for the Minnesota Campaign and Public Disclosure Board, said it's the board's practice to neither confirm nor deny that a complaint has been filed until the investigation is complete and action has been taken, which usually takes about 30 days. Rulings can include fines against candidates and political units, he said.

McIntosh said she doesn't know why the Twin Cities donors gave money to the Lac qui Parle County DFL, but she said it's not uncommon for people to "donate to a cause that may not directly help them or their bank account."

McIntosh said the state DFL has looked into the matter, but because of changes in staff since that time, officials have not been able to determine the exact nature of the expenditure to Poligraphics.

She said she's looked at the same documents that the Republicans have and the donations "were absolutely legal" and all the necessary documentation for the expenditure to the printing company was properly recorded with the state.

The Tribune was unable to reach anyone affiliated with the Lac qui Parle County DFL.

Carey said the Lac qui Parle money may have been used to place a three-year credit with Poligraphics to make new lawn signs this year for Hatch.

McIntosh said she wasn't aware if Poligraphics has a "layaway plan" for campaign signs.

Citing past reports filed with the Minnesota Campaign and Public Disclosure Board, Carey said the nearly $32,000 in total donations the Lac qui Parle County DFL received in 2003 is a "windfall" compared with donations of just several hundred dollars the county unit usually receives.

He said it would be convenient to pick a small county like Lac qui Parle County for money to be stashed and illegally earmarked for a major candidate, like Hatch.

Sigurdson said it is illegal for donors to stipulate that money be spent for a specific candidate.

Carey said the explanations from DFL leaders in Lac qui Parle County have changed, with one official reportedly saying the Poligraphics expenditure was used to buy signs for Mike Hatch. Hatch was not running for office in 2003.

Carey said the new Hatch signs in the Twin Cities are an inch shorter than typical campaign lawn signs, and he said the new signs don't carry a disclaimer. Carey speculated the disclaimer was chopped off of the signs.

A disclaimer is not required on lawn signs.

Mary Beth Gossman, a staff attorney with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, said that based on an April decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that says it is unconstitutional to require a disclaimer, their office dismisses those types of complaints.