A DFL legislator did not violate state ethics rules when he accepted a paid job with a University of Minnesota think tank, despite evidence of preferential treatment in the hiring process, an independent investigation released Monday concluded.

The hiring of Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, for a $50,000 temporary post at the Institute on the Environment's Energy Transition Lab attracted intense scrutiny after internal documents requested by House Republicans showed he and the hiring manager, a former DFL state senator, discussed the role for months before the opening was posted publicly.

House Republicans also raised questions about whether the job itself included lobbying, which is prohibited by legislative rules, and presented a conflict of interest for the state legislator.

Long denied wrongdoing but resigned from the U job shortly after the documents were released, saying his continued employment would be a distraction to the institute's work. University leaders, meanwhile, returned grant money meant to cover the position and demoted Ellen Anderson, the former legislator who pushed for Long's hiring. University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said at the time that the incident "put at risk a core value" of the institution.

Following calls from Republicans for an investigation, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, hired the Ballard Spahr law firm to review the circumstances behind Long's employment at the U.

That probe determined that Long's "conduct in seeking and accepting a position ... and his subsequent employment in that role were consistent with state laws and rules governing legislator conflicts of interest and lobbying activity."

The lawyers found no evidence that Long tried to influence colleagues on legislation on the institute's behalf.

The report's findings corroborated previously released documents showing that Long was Anderson's "preferred candidate" and that the two discussed the role multiple times before the job was posted. While the position was funded by a grant from the nonprofit McKnight Foundation, investigators found "no evidence that anyone at any other outside organization asked or encouraged" the institute to hire Long. However, the foundation was aware that Long was a potential candidate in January, months before the job was posted, the 17-page report says.

Investigators, who relied on public documents and interviews with involved parties, "did not investigate or analyze" whether the institute's employees followed university policy.

Hortman said in a statement that the report "completely exonerates Representative Long from all allegations of impropriety" raised by GOP lawmakers. Long also celebrated the findings.

"It was unfortunate that the House GOP chose to play politics with research on climate change solutions," he wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "I'm committed to achieving a clean energy future for Minnesota, and a disproved partisan attack won't slow me down."

House Republicans did not issue a response to the report Monday night. A spokeswoman for the Institute on the Environment was not immediately available for comment.

The controversy sparked fresh calls for tougher conflict-of-interest and disclosure rules for state lawmakers, many of whom hold jobs outside their work in the part-time Legislature. Those issues have been raised about members of both parties. In late November, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, accepted a role with a Washington, D.C.-based governmental relations firm. Daudt defended the move, saying he consulted with House legal counsel before accepting and will not work for clients with business in Minnesota.

Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049