Whom do you trust?

Mayor's race features ethical hot potatoes, campaign cash and more

When R.T. Rybak ran for mayor in 2001, he pushed election and ethics reforms, saying he would restore citizen trust and bring "a breath of fresh air" to City Hall.

There are plenty of ethical hot potatoes to toss around for the 2005 mayor's race.

Mayoral challenger Peter McLaughlin criticizes Mayor Rybak for failing to live up Candidate Rybak's "holier than thou" and "sanctimonious" standards. McLaughlin criticizes the Rybak for printing a mayoral newsletter that appeared to be a city-paid campaign ad. Further, McLaughlin says, the mayor held two election-year fundraisers despite promises to the contrary. Rybak's 2005 fundraising report fell short of promised and required disclosures.

Rybak's 2005 campaign Web site touts new city ethics codes. The mayor said he has disclosed more campaign donations than the law requires and has set a higher standard, declining tens of thousands of dollars in potential donations from people doing business with the city. McLaughlin has taken donations from developers and others that - while legal - will compromise his ability to make independent decisions, Rybak said.

Meanwhile, Hennepin County officials took more than a month to refer out an election-finance complaint against McLaughlin. The complaint alleges McLaughlin used funds from his Hennepin County Commissioner campaign to pay mayoral expenses - a possibly illegal shift of campaign funds. Conflict of interest policies required the county to refer the complaint for outside review. The complaint, dated Aug. 5, was not sent to Anoka County until Sept. 7.

The Hennepin County attorney who received the complaint is a McLaughlin donor; his boss says nothing untoward happened. McLaughlin denies any impropriety; Anoka officials expect an update - though not necessarily a resolution - by early October.

A series of stories exploring some of the campaign's ethical issues follows.