Grams' wife fined $300 for e-mails False identity used in anti-Ciresi messages
June 16, 2001
The wife of former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge that she helped distribute campaign literature that failed to acknowledge it had been produced and paid for by the Grams campaign.
Christine Gunhus Grams, 46, entered a so-called Alford plea in Anoka County District Court. She was sentenced to a year's probation and paid a $300 fine.
In court, she admitted that prosecutors accumulated sufficient evidence to convict her, but she did not explicitly acknowledge elements of the crime as defendants normally do. The term "Alford plea" comes from the name of a party in a U.S. Supreme Court case that established the legal basis for such an admission.
Rod Grams, who has talked about running for the Senate again in 2002, did not accompany his wife to the courthouse.
The charge against her stemmed from a series of e-mails sent between May and July of last year that attacked Minneapolis attorney Mike Ciresi, who was then seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose incumbent Sen. Grams, a Republican
The e-mails, sent in the name of a fictitious Democratic-Farmer-Labor activist, attacked Ciresi as not liberal enough to merit endorsement by the DFL Party.
Ciresi said the e-mails, especially those sent to party delegates prior to a June 2000 endorsing convention, cost him support in the party. Ciresi eventually lost the DFL nomination to Mark Dayton, who defeated Rod Grams in November.
Christine Grams, who married the former senator after the election, was the political director of his campaign when the e-mails were distributed.
Ciresi last year and again this week denounced the e-mails as a political "dirty trick."
After her court appearance, Christine Grams refused to respond to questions about whether her husband knew last year about her role in distributing the e-mails. Her only comment to reporters after the hearing was: "I'm going to go gardening."
Defense attorney Doug Kelley also refused to comment on what the former senator knew or when he knew it.
Last September, in the midst of the campaign, Rod Grams insisted that no one in his campaign had circulated the e-mails critical of Ciresi. "My campaign didn't do this," he said at the Minnesota State Fair.
Rod Grams did not respond Thursday or Friday to a call left at his office.
Prosecutor Bryan Lindberg said prosecutors found no evidence indicating Rod Grams knew about the e-mails. "We found no evidence either way," he said.
A criminal complaint in Anoka County indicated that the e-mails were produced by a campaign consultant in Virginia who was employed by the Grams campaign. Neither he nor Rod Grams was charged.
The consultant forwarded information about Ciresi to Christine Grams and encouraged her to distribute it to DFL delegates, according to the complaint.
Kelley said Grams' crime was a "technical violation" of Minnesota's election laws. He said he believed all the statements about Ciresi contained in the e-mails were true.
It is a separate, more serious crime to distribute false campaign literature, and Lindberg said prosecutors found no evidence the e-mails violated that law.
Kelley also said he believed the conviction of Christine Grams represented the first time anyone has been found guilty of failing to indicate the origin of campaign material.
"So far as I know, nobody has ever been prosecuted under it," he said of the statute.
Patrick Sweeney, who covers state government and politics, can be reached at email@example.com or (651) 228-5253.
by PATRICK SWEENEY, Copyright © 2001 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com