The issue of conflicts of interest among Minnesota's citizen legislators is long running; lawmakers come from the ranks of lawyers, farmers, teachers, accountants and others who make public policy decisions that can affect their livelihoods.
Less discussed are potential conflicts for staff, even though they are deeply involved in the crafting of policy.
Before Ben Golnik became executive director for the House Republican caucus, he was head of Golnik Strategies, a consulting firm that offered help with communications, "grass roots campaigns" and issue management. When Golnik took his job, he said he terminated all his clients but one — a public relations firm still uses him as a subcontractor to get media mentions for a financial services company.
That does not violate any aspect of Minnesota law, and in a statement, Golnik said: "In the interest of transparency and maintaining high ethical standards, I proactively sought and received approval from nonpartisan counsel at the House of Representatives to continue this media relations work."
He's not the only one with a job on the side.
Mike Howard, the spokesman for the House DFL caucus, also serves as a Richfield City Council member. While Zach Rodvold was the House DFL caucus director for external relations, he drew a separate salary from the state party during the 2014 session for strategy work on the election campaign.
Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said there is no prohibition against outside work in the law, and he's not aware of any other prohibitions. He noted that only House fiscal and legal staff, who are considered "public officials" under the law, must disclose financial interests, including outside employment. They also are obliged to report potential conflicts of interest.
Rodvold said his work was different from that done by Golnik for a public relations company. "What sets this apart from other types of outside employment is that the public has no way to know who is paying, or how much," Rodvold said in a statement.
Golnik, in his statement, said "I take seriously my responsibilities to the people of Minnesota and to my family. I will continue to work hard and honestly for both." He declined to provide details of his work, citing a contractual confidentiality agreement.
A gaggle of Democrats
As hundreds of top Democrats gathered for the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in Minneapolis these past few days, presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders were the largest draws. Filling out the lineup Friday and Saturday were former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb had been scheduled to speak, but bowed out late, saying he needed to take his daughter to college.