There were three lobbying firms, eight lobbyists and a handful of professional football players working the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday, lobbying hard for a new Vikings stadium.
But they weren't lobbying everyone.
“We’re days, if not hours away from a vote and I’ve never, ever been contacted by a lobbyist,” said Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. “Luckily for Vikings fans, I base my vote on what my constituents want, not on what lobbyists ask of me.”
Melin says she’s likely to vote for the stadium bill. Her constituents support the proposal, and she supports all the construction jobs that would come with it. Still, the first-term lawmaker was surprised that no one approached her to ask how she planned to vote, or to answer any of her questions about the bill.
Lester Bagley, lead lobbyist for the Minnesota Vikings, said his team has been lobbying, and lobbying hard.
“We have been lobbying this issue for 10 years,” he said. “We’re doing our best to communicate the key issues and answer questions and provide information as part of our information.”
The stadium team carefully monitors support for the bill among lobbyist, he said.
“We have a list of yeses and a list of nos, and then we have the people in the middle who typically resolve the issue,” he said. “We’ve been working aggressively to firm up our support, trying to assure that there’s enough votes in the middle group to achieve the goals. So we’re working it and we’re working hard.”
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, has yet to hear from the Vikings lobby.
“There is so much money behind this thing,” she said. “There’s so much we don’t know. A lot of legislators on both sides are saying (they haven’t heard from the Vikings operation.) … To me, it sends the message that they don’t want me to ask any questions.”
If the Vikings don’t want to come to her office and answer her questions, Liebling said, she’ll just have to ask them on the House floor during debate. If the bill stays in its current form, however, she says she has no intention of voting for it.
On Tuesday, Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, tweeted that he hadn’t yet been lobbied on the stadium. On Wednesday, one of the Vikings lobbyists pulled him off the House floor for a quick word.
“I think there was kind of a miscommunication,” said Hosch, the House minority whip whose duties include rounding up votes for things like the Vikings stadium bill. He was told that he’d spoke with labor leaders about the stadium, who in turn had been working with the Vikings lobbyists. He’d been lobbied by proxy.
Bagley says the constantly-changing nature of the Vikings bill makes it hard to launch a wide-scale lobbying effort. Much of the team's efforts focuses on the members of individual committees, as the stadium inches its way through the Legislature.
“We’ve talked to legislators for many years about this issue. But one thing this year is until the bill comes into shape nobody wants to talk about until the bill is before them, until it is in a committeee that they are sitting on," he said. "Until it is in front of them or until it is on the floor, typically legislators are not interested in talking about them until the bill is in front of them.”