Michael Brodkorb holds two jobs with the Senate's GOP majority and also is deputy chair of the party.
GOP Chairman Tony Sutton (with arms spread) and Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb have defended Brodkorb’s holding of jobs with both the Republican Party and as executive assistant to Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. His roles require walking a thin line.
In a State Capitol full of busy and intense people, Michael Brodkorb's job-juggling act may put him at the top of the heap.
Brodkorb races through many days making statements as the state Republican Party's deputy chair. Then, he rapidly turns to his state-paid job as Senate Republican communications director and now also as executive assistant to Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
He operates close to the line of a state ethics policy that prohibits overtly bringing politics into Minnesota's State Capitol.
"I don't believe I'm blurring the lines," Brodkorb said, sitting in his State Capitol office, where a "Stop Pelosi" bumper sticker referred to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. "I couldn't imagine that I would be in violation of any policy."
GOP Party Chairman Tony Sutton said "the lines are always firmly drawn," on Brodkorb's dual jobs. "Michael Brodkorb has never done anything that I think anyone would think is inappropriate," Sutton said. "In fact, he's been meticulous" in separating the jobs.
But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said "eyebrows have been raised" as DFLers watch the roles aggressively being played by Brodkorb. "It's a bit of a disappointment [and] a departure," he said.
Walking a thin line
The line between political work and state work at the Capitol has always been tricky to walk. Former DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe once was indicted and later cleared of authorizing campaign work in his office. Former DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson held his post while also working as chief aide to former U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo.
Brodkorb's quick changes from one job to the other catapult him daily between the realm of politics and the halls of government.
On Jan. 4, as the 2011 legislative session opened, Brodkorb and Sutton issued a party statement at 1 p.m. congratulating Republicans on taking control of the Legislature and chiding the previous "out of touch Democrat-controlled Legislature." Less than two hours later, Brodkorb issued a press release as Senate communications director that quoted Koch as saying that while Republicans and DFLers had differences they "share many of the same goals."
In mid-December, Brodkorb spoke at a weekday luncheon in Minneapolis as the party's deputy chair. He then raced back to the Capitol to sit alongside Koch as her communications director, monitoring her interview with a reporter.
From August to November, during the height of the election season, Brodkorb sent more than 860 Twitter messages at all hours of the day, many of them appearing to have more to do with his Republican Party duties.
"Will today be the day that Mark Dayton's campaign answers questions about his tax-free trust in South Dakota?" Brodkorb tweeted at 10:07 a.m. on Sept. 9, referring to the then-DFL gubernatorial candidate.
Brodkorb said he is unaware of any Senate Twitter policy.
Because his state payroll data beyond his base salary is not public, it is nearly impossible to determine when Brodkorb is operating as a Republican official or a state-paid employee. He has declined to release the data voluntarily.
Last July, then-Senate counsel Peter Wattson reminded Senate-paid employees of the policy adopted in the wake of Moe's problems.
"I worry that not all Senate employees are aware" of the policy, Wattson wrote. Wattson, who said the memo was not directed at any particular Senate employee, reminded them that the policy "prohibits employees from engaging in campaign activity during hours they record as worked for the Senate." The policy does not address the use of Twitter and other new technology.
Campaign activity, according to the policy, includes soliciting campaign donations, sending thank-you notes for contributions and preparing campaign literature. Moe, who has maintained his innocence, was accused by a legislative aide in 1996 of being forced to do campaign work on state time and using state equipment.
"It's not always neat and clean," Moe said of the pressures to keep politics out of the Capitol.
Erlandson maintains he "never shortchanged" his taxpayer-paid job with Sabo while also acting as party chair. "Certainly I took calls [related to DFL party business] at all hours of the day and the night and, you know, stepped out to do stuff," Erlandson said.
Erlandson said Twitter and other technology are blurring the roles. "I would caution anybody that [has jobs] like that from getting involved in those types of things," he said.
Brodkorb has declined to accept pay for his party job. At the Capitol, his salary was less than $54,000 when he was the Senate Republican communications director. When he added the duties as executive assistant to the majority leader, his pay rose to $94,000 -- a tribute to his ascension as one of the architects of the historic Republican takeover of the state Senate.
While Brodkorb has alienated some moderate Republicans -- former Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said Brodkorb's "modus operandi wouldn't be the way I would do it" -- he has a loyal following among many party members.
"He has been a very good asset to our caucus," said former Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, who left office last month. She downplayed concerns about his dual roles.
"A lot of us did that sometime or another over the years," Pariseau said. "You put on those hats, and sometimes they overlap."
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673