ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - As a result of a Fox 9 Investigation, a candidate for St. Paul Mayor and current City Council member Dai Thao, has fired his campaign manager for allegedly soliciting a bribe from a lobbyist in exchange for a vote.
The Fox 9 Investigators were independently tipped off to a text message exchange between the lobbyist and the campaign manager. Fox 9 is not naming the lobbyist, the clients represented, or the issue involved in the text messages.
Thao and his now former campaign manager, Angela Marlow, spent Saturday morning at caucuses in St. Paul.
When approached by the Fox 9 Investigators about the allegation of public corruption, Thao responded, "We would never do that."
COFFEE SHOP MEETING
This story really begins at a coffee shop, Golden Thyme, last February.
Thao agreed to meet with a lobbyist and two of the lobbyist’s clients.
The lobbyist said Thao asked them not to take notes and kept repeating "he needed resources," so he could "spread his message."
The lobbyist told the FOX 9 Investigators they were all stunned, and they all knew it was a solicitation for a bribe. They tried to re-direct the conversation.
When Thao kept saying he needed resources, the client even said, "Well, we can send you all the information on this issue that you need." But they knew he wasn't asking for reports or studies, he wanted a campaign contribution, the lobbyist said.
Three hours later, Thao's campaign manager, Angela Marlow, sent a text message to the lobbyist.
Marlow: "hi_____, it's Marlow, Dai's campaign manager. Dai asked me to see if I could get a donation from your clients or yourself for his mayor campaign? My understanding is that they (the clients) are leaving tomorrow. We will certainly rethink this issue."
The lobbyist responded: "Thank you for the note and thank you (sic) for setting up the meeting. Because this is an issue that is coming before the Council, want to make sure we are not in violation of campaign finance laws. Let me check on that and get back to you."
Marlow: "No problem.! Thanks for the quick response. Life of the campaign manager (sic). I get the icky work!"
Less than 48 hours later, the lobbyist replied back, with a not so subtle message: "Following on your contribution request, I think that the timing of the issue coming before the council along with a campaign contribution could be misperceived as a bribe under Minnesota statute 609.42. I believe this is neither your intent, nor cm (council member) Thao's intent. To keep everything above board, both my client and I will refrain from making a contribution at this time."
Marlow replied: "Thanks for the info!"
The lobbyist responded: "Thanks for understanding!"
One last text message was sent 17 days after the other texts. Marlow said there were rumors swirling around the DFL Convention that Thao's campaign had offered a lobbyist a bribe. They assumed it was the lobbyist in this story and Marlow sent this message: "Sorry about any confusion. There obviously no link intended. Dai was happy to meet with you. To avoid any confusion in the future, please direct any meeting about policy matters to Dai's city council office. I am not abreast of that information."
The lobbyist replied: "I understand, I reached out to him on this as a campaign issue because it's also something he will vote on. I just wanted to be clear we were on the same page."
The lobbyist told the FOX 9 Investigators she interpreted it as Marlow and the campaign trying to cover up their tracks. If not, why wasn't such a clarifying statement offered earlier?
MARLOW'S EXPLANATION OF EVENTS
After interviewing Thao Saturday morning, The Fox 9 Investigators found Marlow leaving a caucus across town.
She said the lobbyist contacted her to set up the meeting.
"I'm playing the same game she is. She's playing a game with her clients. You took up three hours of his time, you can give a donation," she said.
"There is no ill intent, I feel you want me to be guilty. That is a rookie mistake one can make," Marlow continued. "If you want to hold me to the fire, go ahead but it's not about Dai Thao."
Ninety minutes after she talked with Fox 9, she was fired.
Thao put out a press release reading: "Today, I learned that two months ago my campaign manager solicited an illegal contribution from lobbyists. I had no knowledge of this, did not sanction it, and do not condone these actions." As a City Council Member and Candidate, I have always expected my staff be pursuant to law. I am appalled by this information and have taken action to remedy this breach of trust. Effective immediately, Angela Marlow is relieved as my campaign manager."
Professor David Schultz is an expert in government ethics.
"Looks like a quick solicitation of a campaign contribution in return for a specific vote or action on the council," he told Fox 9. "It's illegal under federal law and illegal under state law."
And yet, even before the campaign, multiple sources have told the FOX 9 Investigators,Thao had earned a reputation at St. Paul City Hall as a "transactional politician," someone willing to trade votes for favors, a reputation confirmed Saturday by the Council President, Russ Stark.
"Heard that description" is how he responded to a Fox 9 question about it.
When Thao was asked about the meeting in which he allegedly kept saying he "needed resources" the council member told Fox 9: "I don't remember saying anything about that. I am very surprised by all this."
Reached by Fox 9 after she was fired, Marlow said she was only doing what was best for the campaign.