By Baird Helgeson
The Minnesota Senate is about to spend another $77,500 in legal fees to conclude the wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former staffer Michael Brodkorb.
The Senate received a nine-page bill from their lawyers for September through December, ending after Brodkorb agreed to drop the suit for $30,000.
Both sides agreed to pay their own legal fees, as part of the settlement. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to approve the bill Monday.
Taxpayers have already spent about $320,000 defending the Senate against the lawsuit.
Brodkorb was fired in December 2011 after it was revealed he had an affair with then Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, a Republican from Buffalo. Koch resigned her leadership position and did not seek re-election.
Brodkorb had served as the Senate GOP’s communications chief and, with Koch, was instrumental in helping Republicans win control of the state Senate in 2010. Democrats won back control in the next election.
Minnesota, a state known for clean politics, ranks among the worst for financial disclosure from the judiciary, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
"Minnesota is at the back of the pack for financial disclosure requirements, ranking 45th in the country along with Iowa," the Center found in a nationwide study of disclosure required of supreme court justices. "It has a self-policing system for enforcing the disclosure rules, in which Supreme Court justices would be asked to rule on a complaint about themselves. And the state currently does not require judges to report gifts, investments such as stocks or any financial debts on the one-page form."
The Center gave Minnesota an "F," for its judicial disclosure requirements. Minnesota's low ranking on this score is not unusual -- the state often gets below average grades from good government groups that measure transparency and disclosure required of public officials.
Earlier this year the state's campaign finance agency and some lawmakers pushed for more financial disclosure from lawmakers and other public officials. While that proposal largely fell by the wayside, Minnesota did increase the disclosure required of the judiciary.
From the Center: "Minnesota is toughening its requirements starting next year, meaning its lousy grade will undoubtedly improve. Legislation passed this year will require judges to file an additional form that other state officials already file. The form will ask judges to report investments, locally owned real estate and even involvement in horse racing starting in January 2014."
Republican House Leader Kurt Daudt believes a state presentation on Minnesota's economy prepared for a legislative hearing strayed from factual to political.
"The presentation was designed to look like a re-election campaign advertisement for you," Daudt, R-Crown, said in a letter to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton Monday regarding the state Department of Employment and Economic Development's prepared testimony for a hearing last week.
Asked for a response, Dayton deputy chief of staff Bob Hume completely dismissed the accusation, calling it "ridiculous."
"The Governor would be happy to sit with Representative Daudt, or the entire GOP caucus, and enumerate the games and gimmicks that have been in past budgets," Hume said in a statement. "The bottom line is that Rep. Daudt doesn’t like the fact that the economy is improving because it doesn’t suit his political needs. We have good news to tell, and that’s what we’ve been doing."
The presentation, according to the House Republicans, included slides with titles like "games and gimmicks caused a budget roller coaster," "leveling the playing field for the middle class" and "reforming government through smart investments."
Shortly after the presentation began last week, Republicans objected to its tone.
"I'm not sure it was games and gimmicks," Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said during the hearing. "I will tell you there were people on each side of the aisle doing the best job they could to try to make the system work in good faith."
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said part of the presentation was "out of line."
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said at the time that the committee should set aside the idea of taking credit or not for the state of the economy. To a request that the committee skip the presentation until it was stripped of partisanship, Thissen proposed they move forward with the facts.
Much of the slideshow ended up being set aside during the hearing but it still raised ire.
"The nature of the presentation makes the preparation and use of it an inappropriate use of state resources for campaign purposes," Daudt said in his letter on Monday. He said if the Dayton administration uses the presentation, House Republicans will take "any action necessary" to stop it.
In reaction to Daudt's letter, Thissen spokesman Michael Howard said the original presentation was off focus.
"The request to DEED was to deliver a presentation focused on the strengths and challenges facing Minnesota's economy in the future and their PowerPoint presentation didn't necessarily reflect that focus," Howard said in a statement. "That is why the CF moved away from the PowerPoint presentation and focused more on productive testimony."
See the presentation's slide show, as captured by the House Republicans, below and view the video of the hearing here. The DEED portion of the meeting starts about 1 hour and 12 minutes in.
This post was updated with reaction from Michael Howard, Thissen's spokesman, and Bob Hume, Dayton deputy chief of staff.
By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Jennifer Brooks
The latest draft designs for the Minnesota Senate's $90 million new legislative office building and parking ramps shows an expansive five-story building, with high windows, new offices and hearing rooms, a reflecting pool, a glass-enclosed walkway along University Avenue and a new gymnasium space.
The building's glass-front facade forms arcs inward to accommodate the view of the State Capitol across the street.
Funding for the new Senate office building was part of the $2.1 billion tax bill that passed the Legislature last session. The building is scheduled to go up in tandem with an even more extensive renovation of the State Capitol. The Senate offices are scheduled to be complete in 2015. The Capitol renovation will continue through 2017.
Teams of designers and architects have been meeting for months with lawmakers and staff from both parties and both houses to discuss the new office space, said Amos Briggs, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. Documents from the Nov. 12 workshop show participants debating everything from skylights on the roof to the parking ramps to the location of the proposed fitness center.
"These drawings and models change day by day based on cost limitations, tenant feedback, and site restrictions," Briggs said in a statement, noting that no final design plan can move ahead until approval from the House and Senate Rules committees. The new building itself will cost $63 million.
"Though the plans are far from finalized, the intent is that the new, multi-use legislative building will provide large public meeting spaces that will allow more citizens to attend and participate in legislative hearings than ever before and include modern accommodations for the disabled community," Briggs said. "Additionally, the new building will provide office space for Senators and staff from both parties who would be permanently displaced as a result of the already underway restoration work on the State Capitol building."
Right now, state senators occupy offices in the Capitol and the nearby State Office Building, which also houses state representatives. During the session, Bakk argued that the Senate needed its own legislative office space and room for hearing rooms that can accommodate larger crowds.
But the project, which was included in the tax bill late in the session with little debate, raised eyebrows. Former Republican representative Jim Knoblach has filed suit against the state in an effort to block the construction. That suit is slated to be heard in Ramsey County Court in late January.
The project also worries Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee.
"My great fear is that we are overbuilding," said Hausman, noting that senators who currently occupy two floors in the State Office Building are about to get a five-story building of their own.
Hausman's committee would usually have had the job of vetting and approving a large-scale project like a new Senate office building, but instead, it was tucked in to the tax bill in the final hours of the session.
A frustrated Hausman watched the Senate building project pass with a simple majority in the tax bill, while her $800 million bonding bill -- full of road, bridge, sewer and infrastructure projects from around the state -- fell five votes short of the supermajority it needed to move out of the House. A pared-down bill that funded little more than the Capitol renovation project passed on the final day of the session.
"The frustration I have is that I know again this next year, we'll have the usual political rhetoric about big bonding projects. But meanwhile, some Capitol projects have moved ahead despite of these challenges. Some have gone to the head of the line," she said.
Hausman added: "One of the things they say is, 'Well, the House is upset because the Senate is getting new office, so we'll move out of the State Office Building...and you'll have two more floors.'...And I'm thinking, 'But we don't need two more floors."
Former Sen. Ray Vandeveer, who represented the Forest Lake area in the Legislature for more than a decade, is getting back into the election business.
Vandeveer, a Republican, has been a paid consultant to the Minnesota Senate Victory PAC, the state Senate Republicans' federal campaign arm, since early this year.
According to federal records, Vandeveer was paid $1,500 a month for consulting services through May. Sen. David Hann, Senate Republicans' leader, said the consulting is ongoing.
Hann said that as a former member of the state House and the state Senate Vandeveer, whom he considers a friend, has a good political sense of the Minnesota electorate. Hann said that he talks to Vandeveer, who did not run for re-election last year, "fairly often" and he has taken on various tasks to prepare Senate Republicans for the 2016 elections.
Hann said that he did not know if Vandeveer, whose occupation was last listed as real estate appraiser in state directories, had previously been paid for political work.
Hann, of Eden Prairie, said he talked over Vandeveer's hiring with others but the decision was ultimately his.