Fact Check: Prison call says inmates support Keith Ellison, but it's a fake

The Minnesota attorney general's race is a dead heat, and Republicans are ramping up the volume on DFL incumbent Keith Ellison with a bare-knuckles television ad that includes a phone call from a state prison.

Just one problem: the call is fake, according to a Minnesota Department of Corrections spokesman.

The Republican Attorneys General Association and its in-state group Minnesota For Freedom are spending an estimated $1 million to air the ad over the next two weeks. Like many of Ellison's GOP opponents, the ad uses decades-old comments -- along with a more recent one -- to say Ellison is anti-police.

It starts with a woman receiving a prompt to accept a phone call from a supposed prison inmate. "Hey, I want you to know why the inmates are supporting Attorney General Keith Ellison," a man's voice says.

The ad features neither an actual Minnesota inmate nor the call prompt that the Department of Corrections uses, said Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the agency.

Minnesota prisons aren't exactly a big pool of votes, either. Felons who are serving prison sentences can't vote in Minnesota or 47 other states. 

In fact, Minnesota bans people who are convicted of felonies from voting until they finish their entire sentences, including probation or parole. Ellison and other Democrats have endorsed an effort to allow people on extended supervision to vote. While some Republicans support the idea, the GOP-controlled Senate has blocked a change. 

Ellison's office has defended the state law in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that's pending at the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Decades-old criticism

Next, the ad launches into the substance of the Republican Attorneys General Association's criticism by echoing GOP themes from the past.

"Keith Ellison supports us. He praised a cop killer and even asked a crowd to help free this woman who put bombs on cop cars," the man's voice says.

Throughout Ellison's political career, his opponents have pointed to his decades-old public support for two 1970s radicals.

The ad references a 2000 speech that Ellison gave in support of Sarah Jane Olson. At the time of the speech, federal agents had captured Olson after nearly 25 years on the run, and she eventually pleaded guilty over the attempted bombings of two police cars in 1975 while maintaining her innocence.

Olson lived in St. Paul while a fugitive. Ellison and other supporters in the Twin Cities said she was being prosecuted for political reasons. 

In the same speech, Ellison is quoted opposing the extradition of Assata Shakur, who had been convicted of murder in the 1973 shooting of a New Jersey state trooper. Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she received political asylum. 

Blaming cops for riot damage?

While Ellison's past comments are well-covered ground for fact-checkers and Minnesota voters, the ad also raises a more recent comment that hasn't received as much scrutiny.

"He’s been anti-cop forever. Cops know it. Ellison even blamed them for the damage rioters caused," the man says in the ad.

This is not the whole story. Ellison didn't blame all police officers for the 2020 Minneapolis riots, but he did blame a small subset of cops who commit misconduct.

The ad points back to a Washington Post forum from June 2022. There, Ellison lamented how Minneapolis had "just paid out" $70 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits. Ellison didn't specify a time period; a city website shows Minneapolis has paid out roughly $70 million to settle misconduct cases since 2011.

In the same answer, Ellison turns to the cost of rioting.

"We’re paying through the nose because of misconduct," he said. "Oh, and don’t even get started about the cost of civil unrest. Even if people don’t break windows, you still gotta pay overtime for officers who are going to be managing that situation. So, police brutality is expensive. It’s bad for business."

FOX 9 Fact Check: Here's our rating system

  • True: accurate information that requires little or no additional context
  • Needs clarification: mostly accurate information that leaves out context that would be helpful to voters
  • Not the whole story: the information presented leaves out a significant amount of context that could lead voters to a different conclusion
  • Misleading: partial information presented in a way that misleads voters
  • False: inaccurate information, or information presented out of context

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