Lobbyist involved in campaign contribution investigation: 'I did the right thing'

The once anonymous lobbyist at the center of a Fox 9 Investigation into bribery solicitation allegations in the St. Paul Mayor's race has come forward, saying her reputation is being attacked.

Sarah Clarke considers herself an accidental whistleblower.

"When I'm asked to do something illegal, I’m going to stand up for myself and my reputation has been maligned, it’s been a really frustrating situation," she said Monday.

Clarke never intended for the Fox 9 Investigators to get ahold of her text messages and she never imagined she'd be accusing St. Paul Council Member Dai Thao and his former campaign manager of soliciting a bribe.

"I've never been asked for a campaign contribution in exchange for a favorable vote, I was in shock," Clarke said.


It all began last February when Clarke met with Thao at Golden Thyme Coffee Shop, along with two clients who manufacture take-out food containers. The city of St. Paul is considering a ban on styrofoam.

"Right away he told us to stop taking notes," she said. "He said he needed resources and as we were leaving he said he needed resources to spread his message." 

On Saturday Thao told the Fox 9 Investigators he didn't remember saying anything about that.

"To me, and everyone in the room, it was exceedingly clear he was trying to solicit a campaign contribution," Clarke said.


As if to emphasize the request, a couple of hours later Clarke received a text from Thao's campaign manager, Angela Marlow, who wasn't at the coffee shop meeting--but did set it up. 

Marlow wrote,  “Hi, Sarah!  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 are leaving tomorrow. We certainly will rethink this issue. We are also happy to support Jacob in his mayor's run as well."

That is Jacob Frey, Clarke's husband, a Minneapolis City Council Member who is running for mayor in Minneapolis. 

Clarke replied, "Thank you for the note and thank you 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."

"No problem! Thanks for the quick response.  Life of the campaign manager (sic).  I get the icky work!" Marlow said. 

Government ethics Professor David Schultz, from Hamline University, said that is illegal under state and federal law.

And that's what Clarke told Marlow through another text message two days later. It could be perceived as bribery--Clarke even cited the state statute by number.

"Thanks for the info!" Marlow said.

"Thanks for understanding!" Clarke replied.

"Sorry about any confusion," Marlowe sent on March 13. "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."

"To me it seemed to be a clear attempt to cover up, to walk back what was said earlier," Clarke said.

"I was under the understanding she was sending this out under false pretenses, so I just wanted to be clear, let's be clear, before there's gossip," Marlow said Saturday. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Just 90 minutes after that interview Saturday Thao fired Marlow as his campaign manager, saying she had "solicited an illegal contribution from lobbyists."


But by Sunday, he was back on the offensive.

"It was a set-up by a lobbyist who's married to Jacob Frey, who's a supporter of Melvin Clark and that will come up in the next few days." Thao said. "That's all I have to say for now."

Clarke, however, pushed back against that narrative.

"This has nothing to do with Jacob, this has nothing to with Minneapolis or any of the other candidates.  This is what Dai Thao did and that's wrong," Clarke said. "It's really challenging to be in this situation. I feel like I did the right thing and to be maligned this way is hard."