Minnesota received a near-failing grade in a national group’s measurement of state government in areas like secrecy, conflicts of interest and ethics, putting the state sharply at odds with its national reputation for relatively clean government.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity graded every state after collecting data in 13 categories, and Minnesota was actually in the middle of the pack with its D- grade. South Dakota and 10 other states failed, and just three received a grade higher than a D+.
“In state after state, open records laws are laced with exemptions and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in glaring conflicts of interests and cozy relationships with lobbyists,” the group says in a national overview. “Meanwhile, feckless, understaffed watchdogs struggle to enforce laws as porous as honeycombs.”
A Minnesota report points out secret, backroom negotiations at the chaotic close of the 2015 legislative session; weaknesses in how the Legislature handles conflicts of interest; and a defanged Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board that is understaffed and relies on the Legislature for its funding.
Leaders in the minority party in each chamber — Senate Republicans and House DFLers — pounced on the report, calling it evidence of a need for new leadership.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he detected a sense of “entitlement in the Senate majority and a lack of accountability.” He referred to last-minute, backroom deals and to the role of Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, on the board of the disgraced nonprofit Community Action of Minneapolis.
“Minnesotans, and legislators in particular, should be appalled at this report,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “Although it is certainly not surprising after witnessing the mockery of legislative process that occurred on the last night of the 2015 session,” he said in a statement, referring to a $100 million bill that passed in the closing minutes of the session.
House Majority Whip Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, disputed the report’s conclusions in a statement. He said thanks to the Legislative Auditor, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and other watchdog entities, “Minnesota has a reputation as a good government state.”
The Center for Public Integrity worked with Global Integrity, a nonprofit group that measures government transparency and accountability in more than 100 countries, to judge the states based on such categories as public access to information; political financing; procurement; internal auditing; lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement; and state pension fund management.
Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the state’s campaign finance and lobbying disclosure agency, said the content of the Minnesota report did not match the ominous headline, “Squeaky clean image hides a nest of ethical problems.”
“As I read it, I don’t see a nest of ethical problems,” he said.