Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday said that a Star Tribune report of a nonprofit using state funds to subsidize cruises, a director's car lease and spa treatments was very concerning and alarming.
"I was personally really appalled," Dayton said. "I take it very seriously."
The DFL governor met with his Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and others about Community Action on Monday to further delve into its spending. As a result, two state agencies, Human Services and Commerce will immediately develop an action plan to deal with Community Action.
The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that Community Action, which drew board members from high-profile Democratic ranks, that a Human Services Department audit found " the organization’s longtime chief executive, Bill Davis, misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars from 2011 to 2013."
Jesson said her department saw red flags in the nonprofit's administrative spending and began looking into it months ago.
"I think we've been taking this very seriously. A step at a time," she said. Community Action was given an opportunity to respond by September 1. Those responses did not assuage the worry.
"What we have seen so far has not alleviated the serious concerns we had," she said.
Jesson said the department looks into state subsidized nonprofit spending and results and audits those that do not comply with best practices.
Jesson said that Dayton's budget two years ago included more funding for Human Services auditing.
Monday morning, Dayton did not say definitively whether Community Action would receive any more state funding.
"Give us an opportunity here to converse among ourselves," and the city of Minneapolis, he said. Dayton said he only became aware of the spending when the Star Tribune reported it on Sunday.
Community Action, which is supposed to help low-income city residents, included state Sen. Jeff Hayden, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and City Council Member Robert Lilligren on its board. The Star Tribune reported that those elected officials sent others to board meetings in their stead.
Dayton said the party affiliation of the board members -- they are Democrats -- did not change his feelings about the nonprofit's spending.
"I would be very alarmed if there were Democrats involved, I would very alarmed if there were not Democrats involved," Dayton said. "The fact that there were people who were placed in positions of responsibility who allegedly...spent public funds inappropriately, particularly funds that were intended to help people get out of poverty, is very disturbing to me."
By Patrick Condon
Gov. Mark Dayton is out with his first television ad of the campaign, a hockey-themed piece entitled "Darn Good Coach" that talks up the Democratic incumbent's first-term accomplishments.
Dayton's campaign released the ad to the press Sunday. Spokesman Jeremy Drucker said it would begin airing on broadcast television stations statewide on Tuesday.
"A few years ago, things in Minnesota weren't going very well," the ad begins. On the screen, a hockey player tumbles on the ice and a goalie misses several pucks as several statistics flash on screen: "$6 billion deficit. 100,000 jobs lost."
"So we got a new coach," says the narrator, one of the hockey players. That's when Dayton appears, standing amid a group of players just off the ice. Dayton himself does not talk in the ad, but the narrator goes on to enumerate several economic milestones: more than 150,000 new jobs created, one of the nation's best state-level economies.
The state of Minnesota's economy has been a main point of discussion in the governor's race, as Dayton attempts to take credit for improvements of the last four years. His Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson argues that things could be even better if state government spending increases under Dayton could be reigned in.
Johnson's campaign has not yet aired broadcast television commercials, which are expensive. Johnson's fundraising has lagged behind Dayton so far, but the Republican said on Friday that he would have ads on the air by the end of September.
In response to the Dayton ad, Johnson spokesman Jeff Bakken said: "Mark Dayton is trying to paint a record that doesn't match reality. Dayton raised taxes by $2 billion--the largest tax increase in Minnesota history--and his all-DFL dream budget has led to Minnesota having one of the worst job-creation records in the country this year. Minnesotans are hungry for change and will be voting for it on November 4."
Dayton's campaign has reserved nearly $1.3 million in TV airtime from late September to Election Day. Drucker said the "Coach" ad would not be the only one.
Dayton does not currently coach hockey; Drucker said the players in the ad belong to a Twin Cities men's hockey league. The governor is a former high school and college goalie, and he also coached one of his sons in youth hockey for eight years.
It's the third sports-themed ad this year by a candidate for statewide office. Mike McFadden, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, ran an ad that featured his experience coaching youth football, and also ran a hockey-themed ad earlier in the campaign.
The ad can be viewed here.
Updated with Johnson campaign response.
Republican Jeff Johnson hammered on the Dayton administration's handling of MNsure Friday, in what has swiftly become a principal theme of his campaign for governor.
It was Johnson's third press conference on MNsure since the news earlier this week that PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and sold the most plans on the state health insurance exchange in the last year, is pulling out. Four insurance companies continue to sell plans on the site, but Johnson and Republican allies seized on the news as they try to take advantage of the Dayton administration's struggles to get MNsure operating efficiently.
This time, Johnson called for Minnesota's legislative auditor, a Capitol watchdog agency, to expand an ongoing MNsure audit to include a look at the Dayton administration's role in setting PreferredOne rates. Johnson said the situation "looks fishy," but was not able to offer any evidence or even specific allegations of wrongdoing.
"That's what we need to find out," Johnson said.
A day earlier, Dayton when asked by reporters said his administration did not dictate anything to PreferredOne. The company has made no allegations to that affect, either.
"The Commerce Department and the administration do not dictate to these companies what the rates are," Dayton said. "The notion that we set these rates is another one of the fallacies that those who are opposed to the system want to perpetuate."
While Johnson has tried to turn the MNsure issue against Dayton, the DFL has hit back against Johnson by highlighting some of his own past votes on health care. Specifically, Johnson acknowledged Friday that as a state legislator in 2003, he voted for a budget backed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican, that eliminated about 38,000 adults without children from state-provided health care coverage.
"That was a decade ago in the midst of a very deep deficit that we were in the middle of and that was part of the governor's plan to balance the budget without tax increases," Johnson said.
Earlier in his campaign, Johnson talked more frequently of scrapping MNsure altogether. He still says he'd seek a federal waiver from complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, but has also acknowleged that if elected he would likely have to continue to deal with MNsure.
"We have MNsure sitting in front of us and we have to figure out how to move on from that," Johnson said.
Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson blasted Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday for what he called "breathtaking incompetence," after it was revealed that the insurance company that sold more policies on MNsure than any other is pulling out of the exchange.
MNsure officials confirmed Tuesday that PreferredOne, the choice of nearly six in 10 consumers who have bought plans on the exchange, would no longer participate. Insurers are expected to release their 2015 MNsure rates in early October.
"Mark Dayton was desperate to be the first governor in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota through MNsure," Johnson said at a Capitol news conference. "He got to handpick his board and handpick his staff and it has been an unmitigated disaster since day one."
Johnson suggested that PreferredOne pulled out because it was offering artificially low rates on its plans under pressure from Dayton's administration. Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for Dayton's re-election campaign, called that ridiculous.
"Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota," Drucker said. "However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer."
Dayton has owned up to MNsure's struggles. He apologized to consumers who struggled to buy coverage through the glitch-ridden website, and earlier this month he called MNsure's troubled launch the single biggest disappointment of his first term as governor.
Johnson said if elected, his first goal would be winning a federal waiver that would allow Minnesota to pull out of conforming to the Affordable Care Act. If that's not successful, Johnson said, he would seek to replace MNsure's board of directors and its leadership staff. He also said he'd try to increase competition among those companies selling plans on the site.
Drucker predicted that if Johnson is elected, he would seek changes that undermine MNsure's mission of boosting insurance coverage rates.
"This would be devastating to Minnesotans," Drucker said.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings should suspend running back Adrian Peterson until accusations of child abuse against him have been resolved in the criminal justice system.
Calling the allegations and their fallout "an awful situation," Dayton said he believes Peterson is innocent until proven guilty and that he deserves due process. But he also called the allegations, that Peterson used a wooden switch to discipline his four-year-old son, "a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota."
Dayton's remarks came in a statement from his office. The governor was in Washington, D.C., Monday and early Tuesday, raising funds for his re-election campaign.
"Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state," Dayton said.
Peterson has denied being a child abuser, saying he was using the same disciplinary methods that he experienced as a child. The Vikings had kept Peterson out of Sunday's game, but announced Monday that he would be reinstated and playing next Sunday.
Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Dayton's statement. The DFL governor has worked closely with the team throughout his first term, both as advocate for partial public funding of the new stadium now under construction in downtown Minneapolis, and to help promote a subsequent, successful bid for Minnesota to host the 2018 Super Bowl in that new stadium.
"I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested," Dayton said. "The Vikings belong to Minnesota -- and in Minnesota. This has been the team's only home; and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans."