The leader of the House DFL Caucus said Thursday that she plans to review documents that prompted allegations of political patronage regarding a freshman representative's outside job at the University of Minnesota.
The statement from House Speaker Melissa Hortman came as Republican lawmakers ramped up criticism and demands for more information about the Institute on the Environment's decision to hire DFL Rep. Jamie Long as a temporary fellow with its Energy Transition Lab.
Long announced his resignation from the $50,000 post on Wednesday after internal e-mails and documents released by the university suggested the first-term legislator received preferential treatment in the hiring process. Ellen Anderson, a former DFL lawmaker and political appointee who helped arrange Long's job, is no longer director and has been "assigned to work on other projects," Institute Director Jessica Hellmann said in a statement.
Long and other institute officials maintain that he was hired in a competitive process. But e-mails regarding the job, some sent months before it was posted, have raised questions from Republicans in the Legislature about how the position was created, who funded it, and whether it would entail lobbying fellow lawmakers on behalf of the center's priorities — a potential violation of state laws.
Letter to Gabel
On Thursday, Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Paul Anderson sent a letter to U President Joan Gabel containing more than a dozen questions about what he called "deeply concerning" reports about "hiring practices and the propriety of hiring a sitting legislator to influence the actions of his colleagues at the capitol."
Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, who requested the documents, has called on Hortman to temporarily suspend Long from caucus leadership posts until an investigation is completed.
Hortman did not directly address that request Thursday, saying only that she "requested the documents related to Representative Long's hiring at the University of Minnesota and will be reviewing them over the next several days."
Documents released by the university did not initially identify the source of the private donation earmarked to fund the position. But on Thursday, a spokeswoman confirmed that the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation was the funder that had been redacted from previously released correspondence.
Hellmann said that while the institute anticipated using the private funds for the position, it will instead use "licensing revenue" and other nontaxpayer sources.
McKnight issued a statement of its own Thursday saying it had been "assured that to date, none of our funds have been dispersed … for the position mentioned in media reports."
Minnesota's 201 elected legislators serve in a part-time capacity, earning an annual salary of $46,500. As a result, a vast majority of them hold second jobs.
Lack of transparency?
But critics say the evidence surrounding Long's hiring raises several red flags. David Schultz, a former executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said that Anderson, a former state senator who served as a Minnesota Public Utilities commissioner, could have created a "double patronage issue" by using her post to help secure a job for a fellow DFL lawmaker. Schultz, a Hamline University professor, is also concerned about the lack of transparency.
"It looked like, we're going to put somebody on the clock so they can get paid to push their legislative agenda [and] develop more expertise, to basically use public resources as a subsidy for their legislative agenda," he said. "That becomes a problem."