A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Michael Brodkorb is an experienced communications, social media, public affairs & research consultant and is an observer of all things political. He also blogs at politics.mn. He lives in Eagan with his family.

Posts about Politics

Tomassoni memo shows he is working for RAMS during legislative session

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: January 31, 2015 - 12:43 AM

A memorandum from State Senator David Tomassoni's (DFL-Chisholm), which discusses upcoming meetings related to his new job as Executive Director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS), shows Tomassoni is doing work for RAMS during the current legislative session. 

Tomassoni had previously made public statements that he would not be starting his job with RAMS until after the legislative session. Tomassoni's employment agreement with RAMS also states that he "will take a leave of absence" during the legislative session. 

The decision by Tomassoni to accept a new job with RAMS while continuing to serve in the Minnesota Senate has generated widespread criticism since his hiring was announced earlier this month.

Tomassoni responded to the initial allegations of a potential conflict of interest by claiming he would not be starting his job with RAMS until after the legislative session.

Tomassoni's memorandum, which was included in over 100 pages of documents for an upcoming meeting of the Ely City Council and is addressed to "RAMS Board, Members, & Associate Members" is also less definitive about RAMS hiring a lobbyist for the legislative session.

Tomassoni included "potential lobbyist hiring" as one of the subjects to be discussed at a RAMS board meeting. But in materials provided to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board last week, Tomassoni's attorney echoed his assertions that RAMS would be hiring a lobbyist.

Tomassoni did not respond to an e-mail sent to him late tonight requesting a comment about his memorandum. I will have more information on this story tomorrow, so please check back for updates. 

Picture source: Minnesota Senate

David Tomassoni Memorandum to RAMS by Michael Brodkorb

Tomassoni faces new questions about potential conflict of interest

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: January 29, 2015 - 10:33 PM

J. Patrick Coolican of the Star Tribune reported this afternoon on a new twist involving State Senator David Tomassoni's (DFL-Chisholm) decision to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) while continuing to serve in the Minnesota Senate. 

From Coolican's story:

Sen. David Tomassoni, facing criticism for taking a job as executive director of an organization that lobbies the Legislature, is being represented in the matter before a state board by Michael Ahern, an attorney with the firm Dorsey & Whitney. 

Click here to read Coolican's complete story which details how Tomassoni's decision to retain Ahern as his attorney is creating a new series of questions about potential conflicts of interest. I'll have more on this subject tomorrow with additional analysis, so please check back for updates.

Senator says Tomassoni's new job creates "the appearance of impropriety"

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: January 28, 2015 - 8:27 PM

The controversy involving State Senator David Tomassoni's (DFL-Chisholm) decision to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) while continuing to serve in the Minnesota Senate is showing no signs of slowing down. 

In a statement released late this afternoon, State Senator Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) said Sen. Tomassoni should request an advisory opinion from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to determine if Tomassoni is a "de facto lobbyist" for RAMS. Thompson added that Tomassoni's new job with RAMS may have created "an actual conflict of interest" with his service in the Minnesota Senate.

Thompson also said Tomassoni should ask the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board if his role as a board member of the IRRRB conflicts with his job with RAMS.

Below is the complete statement from Thompson:

Senator Tomassoni has put himself in a position that may very well result in an actual conflict of interest between his employment with RAMS and his work as a Member of the Minnesota Senate. At the very least, there is the appearance of impropriety.

I believe he has the responsibility to request an opinion as to whether he is a de facto lobbyist, which would require him to register and comply with laws applicable to lobbyists. Also, any analysis of his situation must take into account Senator Tomassoni's role with the IRRRB. He should ask the Board to take that into consideration.

As previously reported by the Star Tribune, RAMS has received grants from the IRRRB totaling over $200,000  since 2005. 

Yesterday, staff of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board published a draft advisory opinion which said Tomassoni's new position with RAMS does not present a conflict of interest with his service in the Minnesota SenateThe advisory opinion was requested by Tomassoni and will be deliberated at a public meeting of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board next week

RAMS' employment agreement with Tomassoni was provided to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board by Tomassoni's attorney and was included in the materials released yesterday by board staff. While the employment agreement says Tomassoni will not be a lobbyist for RAMS, many of the job duties assigned to Tomassoni could be interpreted as lobbying. 

If it was determined that Tomassoni's job duites as the Executive Director of RAMS required him to register as a lobbyist with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, the Permanent Rules of the Minnesota Senate would restrict his ability to continue serving as state senator

Tomassoni and communications staff with the Senate Majority Caucus did not respond to a request for comment about Thompson's statement. I'll have more on this subject tomorrow, so please check back for updates.

Picture sources: Minnesota Senate

Tomassoni's actions portray the illusion of transparency

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: January 27, 2015 - 11:39 PM

The staff of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board published a draft advisory opinion requested by State Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) about whether his new position as Executive Director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) created a conflict for Tomassoni.

According to the draft advisory opinion, which was prepared by staff and not the appointed board of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Tomassoni's new position does not present a conflict of interest with his service in the Minnesota Senate.

The draft advisory opinion has not been approved by the membership of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The draft advisory opinion released today by staff is scheduled to be approved at a meeting of the board on February 3

As I wrote in a previous post, the Minnesota Senate has a created an internal process for members and staff to seek guidance on potential conflicts of interest. Tomassoni decided to sidestep seeking guidance from the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct and instead decided to seek an advisory opinion from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. 

Aaron Brown, who has a blog with the Star Tribune and also at Minnesota Brown, was highly critical of the draft advisory opinion issued by board staff and also of Tomassoni not requesting the guidance of the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct

Brown wrote:

In so many words, if approved, the Campaign Finance Board would not declare Tomassoni becoming head of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools — this swirling eddy of controversy and outrage — as a conflict of interest.

Apparently, taking a job that would lead to untold thousands of individual conflicts of interests is not, in itself, a conflict of interest.

While the draft advisory opinion has not been formally adopted by the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, most draft advisory opinions are ultimately approved. The meeting of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board where this advisory opinion will be approved will be public, as required by Minnesota's Open Meeting Law

But since the draft advisory opinion which determined that a conflict of interest did not exist for Tomassoni was produced by staff, any meetings or discussions by the staff about this draft advisory opinion are not required to be made public. 

The process by which the draft advisory opinion was produced and the opinion of board staff that a conflict of interest does not exist for Tomassoni will do little to alleviate the concerns surrounding this controversy. I'll have more analysis tomorrow on the draft advisory opinion released by staff of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and the issues that could present additional difficulties for Tomassoni. 

Picture source: Minnesota Senate

Decision by Tomassoni to bypass Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct is puzzling

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: January 25, 2015 - 11:24 PM

As I noted in a previous post, the Minnesota Senate has created an internal procedure for members and staff to receive advisory opinions on potential conflicts of interest. This makes the decison by State Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) to seek an advisory opinion from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure  Board about his new job as executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) instead of working through the Minnesota Senate even more puzzling. 

The Permanent Rules of the Minnesota Senate establishes that one of the major responsibilities of the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct is "to provide its advice on a potential conflict of interest" to members and staff.

In one of the first advisory opinions issued by the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct about potential conflicts of interest, the subcommittee "urged" members "to see advice from the subcommittee."

The subcommittee urges members and employees to make greater use of the resources available to them as they attempt to assure that their conduct meets the highest possible standard. Specifically, the subcommittee recommends that a member or employee facing an ethical question first seek advice from Senate Counsel. If counsel is unable to provide a definitive answer—or if the question is new and of potentially wide application—the questioner is urged to seek advice from the subcommittee. Indeed, Senate Counsel should not hesitate to refer questioners to the subcommittee in appropriate situations.

The question remains to be answered as to why Tomassoni decided to seek an advisory opinion from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and not the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct. I'll have a follow-up post with additional analysis on this subject tomorrow, so please check back. 

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