With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

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Kline chosen for team to craft Obamacare alternative

Posted by: Beena Raghavendran Updated: January 30, 2015 - 4:03 PM

WASHINGTON -- Republican Rep. John Kline is among three House chairmen picked this week to draft a GOP-approved alternative to Obamacare – should the Supreme Court deem the act unconstitutional in an upcoming court case.

Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who leads the Ways and Means Committee, and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, will join Kline, chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, to create a fallback plan in case the Supreme Court votes the Obamacare subsidies illegal in King v. Burwell, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced Friday. The case, which centers on whether the government can help citizens pay for their health care services, will start arguments in March.

Obamacare proponents have pointed to the the Republican Party for criticizing the Affordable Care Act, yet lacking a viable alternative. A release from McCarthy's office Friday said the group recognizes “that full repeal requires a thoughtful replacement strategy” and they will formulate a replacement and a larger full plan if Obamacare is repealed.

The team promises its plan will be more patient-focused, saying it wants to give the American people the option to be “in the driver’s seat” of their own healthcare, the team and the majority leader said in a statement.

“If the Supreme Court rules as we expect – that the law clearly doesn’t allow subsidies to be offered on the federal exchange – then millions more families will have their coverage in danger because Obamacare is fundamentally flawed,” the joint statement said.

Feds hit Minnesota GOP hit with another fine of $26,000 for misreporting

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: January 29, 2015 - 4:58 PM

WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s Republican party was fined another $26,000 this week by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to disclose almost $250,000 in receipts, payments and debts from 2009 to 2011.

This is the second large fine levied on the state party in four years. In 2011, the Commission fined the party $170,000 for misrepresenting its debts during the same time period. A second case was opened up in 2012 after the party’s former Chairman Anthony Sutton resigned and his then-finance chair alerted the party treasurer there were another $249,000 in invoices in Sutton’s office that had not been reported to the feds during their first investigation.

The combined fines of almost $200,000 represents among the biggest penalties ever assessed by the Federal Elections Commission to a state party.

“We are glad the final chapter is now closed on the 2009-2011 problems. We moved forward from these issues two years ago, and we are very pleased the Commission recognized in the agreement the comprehensive set of new internal controls put in place in 2012,” said current GOP Chair Keith Downey, in an e-mailed statement through his spokesman.

According to the six-page compliance report finalized by the Commission this week, Sutton, who abruptly resigned Dec. 2, 2011, was retaining unpaid invoices in his office that were not included in the party’s accounting system or its official disclosure reports as debts. The Federal Elections Commission periodically requires state parties and campaigns file full reports outlining debts, disbursements and contributions.

“(Former Finance Director Ron) Huettl believed Sutton did not want certain invoices to be provided to (the party’s) compliance company because Sutton was concerned about the amount ... of debts,” the report said.

It is a criminal violation to intentionally lie to a Federal Elections Commission investigator during a probe, though it’s unclear whether the Commision or the Department of Justice have launched further investigations into the party, Sutton or Huettl.

Reached on his cell phone Thursday, Sutton said he had not heard about the most recent fine. Asked whether he intentionally lied to federal investigators about the Republican party’s debts, Sutton said he needed to learn more before commenting.

“I’m not going to comment on anything until I know more about it,” he said.
According to the FEC, “Sutton has denied deliberately concealing RPM’s (the Republican Party of Minnesota) debts.”

The watchdog roup Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed both complaints with the Commission against Minnesota’s state party. Officials there say that the party should be open and honest to its donors, candidates and voters about its financial condition.

“It’s taken a while, but by assessing fines of nearly $200,000, the FEC has finally dealt the Minnesota GOP a punishment commensurate with the deliberate deception that the party committed,” said Anne Weismann, CREW’s interim executive director, in a statement.

All told, at the end of 2011 Minnesota’s GOP had more than $2 million in bills — a burden that hampered its political efforts for the 2012 cycle. Shortly after Sutton resigned, the landlord of its St. Paul headquarters served the party with an eviction notice for $111,000 in back rent. 

Former Minn GOP operative takes advisory role at RNC

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: January 29, 2015 - 11:33 AM

WASHINGTON -- Former Minnesota operative Jeff Larson was brought on to the Republican National Committee as a senior adviser, just as the organization begins to build up for the 2016 presidential race, officials said Thursday.

Larson was toiling in the trenches last year working at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, steering independent cash to races. His fundraising efforts were successful: the NRSC raised just over $125 million and the Senate flipped red last November. Republicans hold a 54-46 advantage. 

(The Dems still raised more at $145 million.)

Larson was former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman's right-hand man during his recount fight against current Sen. Al Franken. Larson also was largely credited for the success of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

In a quick phone interview Thursday, Larson said he will be advising RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

Asked what he thought Republicans vying to be a presidential contender needed to hear, Larson said he hoped "civility was part of the process."

"I think they need to be respectful and that's what Reince has talked about and that's the right messaging," he said.

Larson noted the field of challengers was promising.

"They stack that up with Hillary, who is older and tired and has the same policies Barack Obama has," he said, "I don't thinik they (voters) want a third term for Barack Obama."

Sens. Klobuchar, Franken question Justice nominee

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: January 28, 2015 - 4:12 PM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both said this week they planned to support the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who was grilled in front of the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Lynch was nominated last year by President Barack Obama to run the Justice Department after current AG Eric Holder announced he was stepping down. The Judiciary Committee, where both Franken and Klobuchar are members, is the first step towards Senate confirmation.

Klobuchar, who said she's met with Lynch a couple times privately, called her an "exceptional public servant" and noted she liked that they both share a background as prosecutors. 

Klobuchar said she wants to ensure the Department of Justice continues its commitment to go after domestic extremists -- particularly in light of recent events in Minnesota. Last year, a federal grand jury probed a local terrorism pipeline to find the Minnesota Somali Americans who were allegedly conspiring to join forces fighting with the Islamic State abroad. 

Franken, who has also met with Lynch privately, tried to cut her a break during a tense hearing Wednesday by asking whether she had a nice lunch.

“How was lunch?....You enjoyed lunch?” he said, a softball, amid the Republicans' questions about the president's immigration executive order.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Franken called Lynch qualified to lead the Justice Department.

"Her credentials are strong -- she has successfully prosecuted the toughest cases, from terrorism to public corrruption," he said. 

Unhappy with first response, Sen. Al Franken pushes Uber again on privacy

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: January 27, 2015 - 7:29 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken on Tuesday fired off another letter to Uber headquarters in San Francisco, asking the ride-sharing company to further clarify its privacy policies.

This is the second time Minnesota's junior senator has pushed the company to be more transparent about how it stores and uses millions of consumers rider information. 

Late last year, amid news reports Uber threatened to publicize private data about journalists' writing negative stories about the company, Franken wrote the company a letter asking for clarification about its privacy practices. The company responded, though not to Franken's satisfaction, he said Tuesday.

"I appreciate that Uber responded and has expressed its commitment to improving its data privacy and protection policies and practices," he said, in a statement. "However, while I'm pleased that I received a reply, I was, and still am, concerned about the lack of detail in the response."

Tuesday's letter to the company asked for clarification on how Uber defines "legitimate business purpose" when employees are able to access consumer rider information. He also pressed the company on when, and with whom, it shares customer data. 

Uber, which works by consumers sending for drivers via an app on a smart phone, now operates in every major U.S. city and 52 countries worldwide. Last June, its valuation was set at $18 billion. Its smaller competitor Lyft was also pressed by Franken last year to clarify privacy practices. Franken was mostly satisfied with Lyft's response, which arrived earlier this month.

Franken asked Uber to meet a Feb. 11 deadline. 


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