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Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has joined the boards of seven corporations in the past year and become senior adviser to a California investment firm, opening a new, private-sector chapter in his life that could leave vice presidential vetters with lots of new questions.
As the time for Mitt Romney to pick a running mate approaches, those charged with scrutinizing every detail of contenders' lives are expected to look closely at public and private activities. Pawlenty declined an interview for this story and many companies declined to offer specifics, but close attention from the campaign is unavoidable.
As the former CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital, Romney has faced questions about his possible role in layoffs, outsourcing and investments, and his campaign is expected to go over any potential vulnerabilities in a vice presidential candidate.
"I think Romney's experience proves that any company where a candidate for high political office is working or has worked is going to receive very close scrutiny," said Ian Maitland, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School.
On the plus side, his directorships offer Pawlenty insights into the "nuts and bolts" of how companies are run, said Charlie Weaver, a Pawlenty friend and the head of the Minnesota Business Partnership. Longtime Pawlenty aide Brian McClung said the former governor sees board work as part of a career in the private sector.
Unlike Romney, Pawlenty has made little mark in the private sector. Pawlenty was first elected to the Legislature in 1992 and elective office has been his primary focus ever since.
Still, he has had some brushes with private business and they have resurfaced in recent weeks as his name has climbed higher on the VP shortlist.
When he first ran for governor in 2001 and 2002, while still a legislator, Pawlenty was paid $60,000 for work with a telecommunications company owned by a supporter, Elam Baer. Another of Baer's companies had been accused of deceptive sales practices, for which it paid a $2 million settlement. Pawlenty did not reveal the payments until he was elected and never fully answered what he did to earn the money. A panel of county attorneys cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing after conducting an investigation that cast a shadow over Pawlenty's early days in office.
A new chapter
After folding his own presidential run earlier this year, Pawlenty in June joined the board of Smart Sand Inc., a private company that provides sand to the natural gas industry. Any work with natural gas is controversial as local communities grapple over how to handle fracking. The former governor is an advocate of natural gas and said this spring that his support has nothing to do with his private work.
In Oakdale, Wis., where Smart Sand is building its main processing facility, the company's work has caused some concerns, according to local campground owner and village president Duane Granger. But Granger said he's comfortable with the company's plans and "my campground is full of sand people."
Pawlenty joined the board of the public technology company Digital River in December, one of his longest board posts.
The company has struggled lately. This month, the Minnetonka-based organization reported second-quarter earnings of $200,000, down more than 30 percent from the same quarter a year ago.
Meanwhile, billionaire investor and Democratic booster George Soros and his son recently picked up a 10 percent stake in the company's stock. That could blunt Pawlenty's ability to go after Soros' contributions to the Democratic effort, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
Adding to pocketbook
Last year, when Pawlenty disclosed his financial records as he was running for president, he reported just over $700,000 in income from three sources -- his 2010 gubernatorial salary, royalty payments from his autobiography and speaking fees. His board work complicates the income story.
After four months on Digital River's board, Pawlenty got $53,720, according to an April statement from the company. Of that, $7,250 was in cash and $46,470 in stock awards. Full-time board members got a range of $216,380 to $328,435, including stock and cash awards. Pawlenty's compensation may have risen as his tenure increased.
All his other work is at privately held companies. In response to inquiries from the Star Tribune, they either did not respond, could not be reached or declined to disclose details about Pawlenty's compensation.
"We hope you understand the information you seek is not public," said Christen Chesel, Vector Capital's executive assistant to the CEO, in answer to questions about Pawlenty's pay and role as a senior advisor at the California-based investment firm.
The Star Tribune received similar answers from Georgia-based warehouse and supply chain company RedPrairie and Minnesota-based biotech company Miromatrix, upon whose boards Pawlenty serves, although officials at both said the governor has attended to board needs dutifully. He also serves on the board of Minneapolis medical device company Ionix Medical, California-based security company Tiburon Inc., and Inmar Inc., a business services company based in New York.
Pawlenty has likely already disclosed all the details of his pay and work for all those companies to Romney's vice presidential selection group, which is working in secret. If Pawlenty does get the nod from Romney, the public should find out details of his compensation within a month of the vice presidential announcement through a personal financial report, according to federal rules.
Star Tribune reporters Patrick Kennedy and John Oslund contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb