No matter what you think of Donald Trump, there was one message that Americans sent loud and clear on Nov. 8 that should be welcome to the ears of those on the left and right alike: We’ve had enough of the cronyism and financial payoffs to political pals that have been so prevalent in national politics for the past couple of decades.
Trump called it “draining the swamp.” Put simply, Americans are fed up with elected officials who pay off their political supporters with taxpayer money.
The issue has been on the front page in Minnesota these days because the board that runs U.S. Bank Stadium has been providing taxpayer-funded suites and food to its families and DFL friends. It’s an outrageous story, to be sure, but the culture that made it acceptable is nothing new in St. Paul.
The administration of Gov. Mark Dayton, in particular, has a history of financially rewarding its political supporters with public money, and it has continued even following the message voters sent on Election Day 2016.
Let’s review some highlights from just the past few years.
In 2013, amid the complete meltdown of the MNsure launch, a disaster that was creating chaos for thousands of Minnesotans, the Dayton-appointed MNsure board approved significant year-end bonuses for 14 MNsure executives.
In 2015, Dayton appointed the husband of his chief of staff to be the new chairman of the Metropolitan Council. Previously, the Met Council chairman position was part time and paid just over $61,000 per year. With this new appointment, however, the position was made full time and the annual salary was increased to $145,000.
Later in 2015, Dayton provided significant pay increases to his entire cabinet, most in the range of 25 percent to 30 percent. A salary increase from $120,000 to $155,000 per year was the most common increase granted by the governor. When both Republican and DFL leaders complained of these increases, Dayton called such concerns “beyond the theater of the absurd.”
Earlier this year, we learned that Dayton had quietly provided taxpayer-funded severance payments to several of his commissioners when they resigned from his cabinet. He provided more than $33,000 in severance to one commissioner when she resigned to pursue “a new opportunity,” $27,000 to another (whom Dayton appointed a couple of years later to another executive government position) and more than $18,000 to a third who had served in her position for only eight months before resigning.
Most recently, Dayton removed from the U.S. Bank Stadium board a member who has been critical of the chairwoman of that board (a Dayton appointee and his former deputy chief of staff) and the executive director of that board (a longtime DFL operative) both being paid by the taxpayers to do essentially the same job. Together, the two make nearly $300,000 per year.
We also learned recently that Dayton’s Department of Employment and Economic Development is creating a special fund (known as a Dislocated Worker Project) to specifically help DFL political staffers who found themselves out of work after the election.
These examples don’t represent an elected official who hires or appoints a qualified political supporter to a position. That will always happen in government and in many cases is quite appropriate.
This is the misuse of taxpayer money to enrich friends and appointees. This is the “swamp.”
And if you ask me, it’s not just Washington that needs a little draining. The people of Minnesota deserve so much better.
Jeff Johnson, of Plymouth, is a member of the Hennepin County Board. He was the 2014 Republican nominee for governor.