Earlier this week I wrote that I was worried that the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board, lacking jurisdiction on the matter of Sen. David Tomassoni's new job as head of a lobbying organization, would issue some vague shrug-turned-nod in his direction.
That, after all, was probably why Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Sen. Tomassoni requested the CFB's opinion instead of that of the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Practices.
Sure enough, the draft opinion released today (prepared by staff; not yet approved by the board) shows that a job taken by a Senator cannot be a conflict of interest in the CFB's eyes, only specific actions taken by the legislator in question.
The draft opinion provides that a conflict of interest does not exist. Under the provisions of Chapter 10A a conflict of interest occurs from a specific decision or action that meets certain criteria. A conflict of interest is not created by a legislator’s employment or occupation. As drafted this opinion is consistent with prior advisory opinions issued to members of the legislature on this subject
In so many words, if approved, the Campaign Finance Board would not declare Tomassoni becoming head of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools -- this swirling eddy of controversy and outrage -- as a conflict of interest.
Apparently, taking a job that would lead to untold thousands of individual conflicts of interests is not, in itself, a conflict of interest.
Further, this CFB document does not mention Tomassoni's role as a board member and chair of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, which draws funds from the same production tax revenue as RAMS and which RAMS also lobbies for Iron Range city and school projects. That is at least as troublesome as the obvious problems Tomassoni faces in heading a public influence group from an active Senate seat.
I get the sense the CFB staff took a real shallow approach to this, sensing the political heat.
Fellow Star Tribune "Your Voices" blogger Michael Brodkorb, a conservative and former Senate GOP staffer, and I have consulted on this a few times. Brodkorb points out that going the route of the Campaign Finance Board is an unusual move for a member of the Senate, where political culture usually eschews outside bodies in internal matters.
This matter rightly belongs in the Senate Ethics Subcommittee. If Tomassoni won't ask that body for a definitive ruling, Majority Leader Bakk, along with conscientious Republicans and DFLers, should. The number of Senators who would disagree with this likely could comfortably fit in an elevator ... one of the small ones. The question is whether leadership turns it into a party loyalty check or not.
All of this drama would be unnecessary if Tomassoni would just take one good look at this situation from a position of objectivity and realize that he should just resign to take the political influence job he apparently wants. There is no shame in that; but trying to do both brings shame on Tomassoni, the Range, and the Senate.
Other than Tomassoni himself, who honestly believes the senator should do both jobs? The Campaign Finance Board was never the right board to ask about that. This matter is far from closed.