Sitting Range senator takes job with lobbying group

David TomassoniUPDATE 3: Moments ago, State Sen. Tom Bakk, the Senate Majority Leader, issued this statement regarding Sen. Tomassoni’s new job:

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) released the following statement concerning Sen. David Tomassoni’s employment at the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.

“As Sen. Tomassoni has publicly indicated, he has received the legal opinion of private counsel,” Sen. Bakk said. “It is my understanding that Sen. Tomassoni and his private counsel are promptly requesting an advisory opinion from the Campaign Finance Board to determine if under 10A.07 a conflict exists by his acceptance of the Executive Director position at Range Association of Municipalities and Schools,” Sen. Bakk said. “The Campaign Finance Board is the institution intended to resolve and advise on potential conflicts of interest concerning public officials, when they return their advisory opinion Sen. Tomassoni will have clear direction.”

I have also put in a question to the Attorney General’s office asking the same question.

UPDATE 2: The Star Tribune and MPR are reporting on the matter. Two GOP House members have risen to defend Tomassoni.

UPDATE: Sen. Tomassoni told members of the media today that he will make $45,000 a year as head of RAMS, accounting for the fact that he will be taking unpaid leaves of absence during the sessions. So it won’t be double his legislative salary; rather roughly equal to it. In any event, RAMS gets a senator and a senator doubles his pay.

ORIGINAL POST: Last Friday, the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) announced that State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) will be organization’s new executive director.

In a Mesabi Daily News story over the weekend, Tomassoni confirmed that he would be starting the RAMS job after the end of the current legislative session. He said he would take a leave of absence from the position during subsequent sessions, during which RAMS would hire a lobbyist to perform what would otherwise be his normal duties.

Ballotpedia explains RAMS succinctly:

The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools is a government sector lobbying association. The association lobbies on behalf of public entities, and public money is used in part for this, according to the Minnesota State Auditor.

The sole function of RAMS is to advocate on behalf of small governments on the Iron Range for their specific legislative goals, while also advising them on grant applications and other administrative tasks. It’s funded by the local governments and also by local iron ore production tax revenue. The outgoing director is Ron Dicklich, himself a former state senator. But unlike Dicklich, Tomassoni is going to try to hold both positions simultaneously.

Is it legal? Yes, probably. Though it shouldn’t be.

Is it ethical? Absolutely not.

This is a clear conflict of interest. Further, and more importantly, it’s the formalization of a troubling trend in Iron Range political leadership that’s been building for a generation. Who are our elected leaders? Who are the lobbyists? Are things being done for money? For friendship? For power? The earthy world of Old School Iron Range political organization had a place in the 20th Century, when workers had no allies in fighting for their rights. That tradition, however, has now been wholly coopted by monied forces to preserve monied interests.

Political watchers often lament the cozy relationship between lobbyists and elected officials. Lobbyists often seem like furniture in the offices of state legislators from both parties. We grumble when former lawmakers cash out their connections and influence as lobbyists after leaving office. Since 1980, every outgoing state senator from the Iron Range has signed on as a registered lobbyist. But what’s happening here with Sen. Tomassoni essentially ends the distinction between lobbying and serving in public office.

See, Tomassoni might not be registering as a lobbyist or drawing a salary during the four and a half months of the legislative session. That would be illegal, after all! But we are being asked to believe that during the session Tomassoni is shutting off all allegiances or interest in a job that probably pays him twice his legislative salary. (Tomassoni’s new salary has not been made public yet). We are asked to believe that RAMS is paying him this salary just to push around a few papers and hold meetings with city and school district leaders during the off-season. City and school leaders, citizens and Senate constituents alike are being asked to intuitively know whether Tomassoni is their Senator or the executive director of a lobbying organization when they speak with him.

All of these expectations are ridiculous, and demonstrate the unethical and unsustainable nature of this scheme.

Perhaps Tomassoni isn’t planning to seek re-election in 2016? (Under these circumstances he shouldn’t). Maybe he plans to do the honorable thing and resign after the session. (I doubt that). Regardless of what he thinks, however, Sen. Tomassoni should not serve in the Senate and RAMS simultaneously. He should choose whether he is a lobbyist (excuse me, “executive director of a lobbying organization”) or a Senator. Frankly, it would appear he already made that decision. He just wants to draw paychecks for both.

If Tomassoni persists, the media and Senate Ethics Committee should investigate the matter. Legislation should ban this practice. The voters of the central Iron Range should let their Senator know who he really works for, and hold him accountable. This must not be allowed to slide, for it would be replicated again and again at enormous expense to the integrity of our democracy.

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This piece is cross-posted with my Up North Report blog at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Comments

  1. Politicians used to have the decency to hide their agendas, now they take lobbying jobs while serving the people who elected them. Range politics have been shady since I can remember. If this was a GOP Senator it would be a story with legs but since it is a DFL’er it will go away…… Quietly.

  2. Yet another of the DFL cronies whoring themselves to corporate interests.

  3. Mike Worcester says:

    This just does not look good, feel good, or even smell good. Nothing about it makes sense. If — and I mean *if* — the good senator or the organisation he now heads sought legal advice about his taking this position they should say so and offer up any written summaries they used or relay verbally what they discussed so that all the facts are available.

    Legal? You are right, probably so. You are also absolutely correct that it should not be.

  4. There is legal and illegal- right and wrong. This may be legal but is wrong. Giving our elected officials more of our hard earned money in taxes makes no sense to me. As I’ve felt for yrs now, politics is for the elites to line their pockets while they placate the working poor by saying they’re working for them. Hell, if they were working for them things would change for the better- not be getting worse by the yr.

  5. John Ramos says:

    What’s wrong with letting a senator double his salary by lobbying himself?

  6. If he lobbied with his money I wouldn’t care but he’s lobbying with mine and yours tax dollars. Makes the whole corrupt system of passing money out and around political elites worse.

  7. John Ramos says:

    But just think how much more efficient this makes everything. Tomassoni can leave a message on his office telephone urging himself to vote for something, then he can immediately play the message back and decide whether he should do it. That’s a real time-saver.

  8. Good point!!!!

  9. No integrity! He should resign.

  10. Joe Musich says:

    About sums up what the politics of the Range have become. So sad. Thanks for the reporting Dr Brown.

  11. David Gray says:

    Has Aaron earned a PhD? If so congratulations!

  12. Tomassoni is a bit dazed as we check him into the boards, skate around him and score a few goals. But in the end he’ll win and the Range will lose. He’ll continue to promote liberal only policy….either as Senator only, as combination Senator and the head of RAMS or head of RAMS only. The sad story is, da Range put him in both jobs.

    In the meantime, let’s keep backpedaling and watch him squirm. It’s worth it to expose his self-righteous arrogance. He’s worked hard, on our dime no less, to refine these character traits.

  13. Ranger, sadly you are correct. In the end Rangers lose and these career politicians win. Until there is a throw the bums out mentality up here, nothing will change. After yrs of hearing how our Range politicians say they are working for you, if you elect them (again) things will be great up here and it continues to get worse, something has to change. Thank you Aaron for writing this story, I would never have heard about this other wise.

  14. This is so offensive that it doesn’t just stink, it is rotting corpse retching.

  15. How bad does it have to get before we do something?

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