'The party is morally bankrupt:' Ex-staffers call for GOP chair Carnahan's ouster

Former Republican Party of Minnesota staffers accuse Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan of running a "morally bankrupt" operation where verbal abuse, intimidation and sexual harassment is pervasive.

The last four GOP executive directors under Carnahan called on the chairwoman to resign or be removed at a Thursday evening meeting of the party's Executive Committee. Carnahan is calling for a vote of confidence at the same meeting.

"Carnahan ruled by grudges, retaliation, and intimidation," wrote Kevin Poindexter, Becky Alery, Christine Snell and Andy Aplikowski in an open letter. "We cannot continue to allow Carnahan to denigrate this organization and tarnish the Republican brand – it is not the Carnahan brand – while continuing to drive well-intentioned, talented, and active Republicans to the curb."

Numerous former staffers and College Republicans have stepped forward in the past 48 hours to accuse Carnahan of creating a toxic work environment and sweeping allegations of sexual harassment against party employees under the rug. Carnahan has not spoken publicly about the latest allegations but said Tuesday that they were part of a "coup" against her.

Carnahan is clinging to power in the face of 17 state lawmakers, the GOP's frontrunner in the 2022 governor's race, and five Executive Committee members calling for her resignation. She said Tuesday that she would "absolutely not" resign and said party activists would have to push her out.

The 15-member Executive Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday night to take a vote on Carnahan's future. Ten votes are required for removal. The larger state Central Committee of party delegates is likely to meet after Labor Day and has the final say.

Carnahan's trouble started with last Thursday's arrest of close friend and major donor Tony Lazzaro on child sex trafficking charges. Carnahan initially said Lazzaro deserved "due process" but has since said her friend should spend the rest of his life in prison. She has said she's the victim of "guilt by association" with Lazzaro, who was one of a few dozen attendees at the 2018 California wedding of Carnahan and U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

With the chairwoman's power weakening, Executive Committee members voted this weekend to launch an investigation of the party's finances and to release everyone from nondisclosure agreements that Carnahan had asked them to sign. Poindexter, Alery, Snell and Aplikowski said that action allowed them to speak out now.

In recent days, former staffers and young Republicans have taken to social media to share stories of verbal and sexual harassment within the party.

Francesca Zeller, who was the Minnesota GOP's political director in 2018, said Carnahan frequently berated her and other staff, a concern that one witness confirmed to FOX 9. Zeller said she also faced harassment about her sexual orientation.

"Regardless of anything I did to report my lack of comfort or report specific issues with volunteers or activists I had to work with, I never received any support," Zeller said in an interview.

Zeller said she was initially optimistic about working for Carnahan. After resigning in August 2018, she moved to Texas and got out of politics.

"I don’t recommend anyone be involved in the Republican Party of Minnesota as it stands today," she said.

Some current and former members of the Minnesota College Republicans made accusations on social media that Carnahan did nothing to investigate sexual harassment complaints against party staffers.

Carnahan did not respond to FOX 9's request for comment on Wednesday. During a WCCO Radio appearance a day earlier, Carnahan called allegations of mismanaging sexual harassment complaints "categorically false."

This story is developing and will be updated.