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Gun store owner fined for campaign violations in St. Louis County sheriff's race

Chad Walsh will have to pay $750 for violations described as "concerning" by a panel of judges.

Chad Walsh
Dead on Arms owner Chad Walsh talks about his gun shop and shooting range business in rural Cloquet.
Clint Austin / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A candidate for sheriff in St. Louis County has been fined by the state for a series of campaign finance violations, including filing some campaign earnings six months later than necessary.

The candidate, Chad Walsh, a gun store owner in rural Cloquet, was fined $750 by a panel of administrative law judges, according to an order issued March 31 from the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Walsh is running for the open sheriff’s seat being vacated by retiring Sheriff Ross Litman.

Former Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay and St. Louis County Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky are also in the running for the seat. The race will be trimmed to two candidates following the Aug. 9 primary election.

Walsh, whose business, Dead on Arms, uses the logo of a right-wing militia, claimed in testimony before a three-judge panel that he regretted the errors, calling it an “honest mistake.”

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In their order, the judges said his explanation fell short of accepting responsibility, and called his explanations “incorrect and concerning.”

Walsh’s violations include failing to report contributions worth more than $750 within 14 days; failing to accurately report expenditures related to campaign billboards; and accepting three campaign contributions last year (a non-election year) in excess of the $250 limit allowed by law.

Walsh also failed to file his 2021 campaign finance report until Feb. 10 — 11 days after it was due.

When his campaign finally did report his earnings of more than $6,100, it listed no expenditures for 2021, the year his campaign posted four billboards along highways in St. Louis County.

Current St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nick Voltzke filed the complaint with the state regarding Walsh’s campaign breaches. Both Walsh and Voltzke testified in a pre-hearing conference in March conducted by telephone.

Walsh conceded to all of the violations, and both parties waived their rights to an evidentiary hearing, choosing to submit the matter to the panel of judges.

Walsh must pay the fine by May 6 to the state treasurer, and also refund $400 received above the legal limit.

Voltzke testified that Walsh’s lack of compliance with campaign financial reporting requirements was “especially concerning given that (Walsh) is seeking the position of St. Louis County sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer in the county.”

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According to Voltzke, Walsh needed to be held accountable to “clearly written laws.”

Walsh had urged the panel to impose only a reprimand for the violations, and vowed to file timely reports. He explained that he and his spouse, Laura, had no experience running a campaign and did not intend to violate the law.

“The campaign financial reporting requirements exist to promote transparency in the financing of political campaigns,” the judges’ order said. “These laws are not complex and must be followed by novice and experienced candidates alike.”

Administrative law judges, and the Office of Administrative Hearings, interpret and rule on the law in administrative proceedings, rather than civil lawsuits and criminal matters found in the state's district courts.

PREVIOUSLY
Dead on Arms owner Chad Walsh was forced to temporarily close his indoor shooting range last year during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.

Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing bslater@duluthnews.com or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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