For the second time in six months, Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, is being called before the Senate Subcomittee on Ethical Conduct over allegations of undue benefits from a troubled, now-defunct Minneapolis nonprofit. And, for the second time, Hayden says the accusation is partisan and personal, and insists he has done nothing wrong.
Hayden is scheduled to appear before the subcommittee on Monday, presenting a second round of testimony and debate, after the same panel reached an impasse over Hayden’s case in a late October hearing. Senate Minority Leader David Hann’s new complaint, filed earlier this month, argues that Hayden not only got off too easily that time, but also lied under oath in his testimony.
Republicans think they have better evidence to retry their case against Hayden, who avoided any official censure when the allegations first surfaced last fall. At issue is his role as a board member with Community Action Minneapolis (CAM), a group that drew scrutiny from state auditors, who documented a series of improper reimbursements for travel, food and other expenses by staff and board members.
CAM later shut down operations, but its troubles are far from over, as the group is now under investigation by the state Department of Commerce, the FBI and the IRS.
At the time of the first hearing, Hayden testified that he “wasn’t aware of any improprieties … now starting to come out,” and that he had little knowledge of the nonprofit’s financial mismanagement. The complaint, which references later news stories that appeared in the Star Tribune and on Minnesota Public Radio, argues Hayden was reimbursed by CAM for more than $300 for a flight to New York City, and had “constructive knowledge” of CAM’s internal operations.
The complaint comes as a direct challenge to Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, who was one of two subcommittee Democrats who blocked the investigation from going forward. In a statement accompanying the filing of the complaint, Hann said complainants had “met the challenge of the Subcommittee … to find more concrete evidence that Sen. Hayden had received travel perks and failed in his duties as a board member for CAM.”
Should the subcommittee substantiate Hann’s complaint, it could opt to appoint a special investigator to look into Hayden’s dealings with CAM, or issue subpoenas requesting further testimony or records.
Hayden issued a statement saying the complaint was “unfounded personal attacks,” while DFL Party chair Ken Martin accused Hann of “trying to score political points” during a crucial time in the legislative session. Reached on Thursday, Hayden declined to comment for this story, citing Republicans’ well-documented proclivity for using statements or press accounts as evidence against him, but reiterated that he was looking forward to the chance to defend himself. (Hann has been out ill for several days, and was not available to comment.)
The case is just the most recent incident in a pattern of filings, allegations and hearings the GOP has initiated against the Senate caucus. In March, the Republican Party of Minnesota filed a campaign finance complaint against Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, over a $35,000 debt that had gone “missing” from a campaign finance report.
Kent subsequently filed amended reports, and blamed the debt’s disappearance on a filing error, but the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has said it would open an investigation into the matter.
Earlier this session, the Senate GOP’s target was Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who was then embroiled in controversy over his accepting a job with the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS), an organization that lobbies the Legislature. At the time, Hann said Tomassoni should seek an opinion from the ethics subcommittee, but the Democrat effectively quashed the issue by resigning from his RAMS job.
Blogger and former GOP Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb said Republicans have been on the alert for possible ethics violations since 2012, when a dozen Democratic candidates, including Kent, were found to have illegally coordinated with the Senate DFL caucus on campaign literature. The campaign finance board’s ruling against the caucus resulted in a $100,000 fine, the largest in state history.
“Republicans have tried to make the argument that Democrats stole the election in 2012,” he said.
With Senate Republicans in the minority, and likely left out of any negotiations not related to a bonding bill, the caucus’ agenda is geared toward weakening their DFL opponents in the run-up to the 2016 election. There, the construction of a new Senate office building will play a central role in campaign literature, though Brodkorb said Democrats would be wise to avoid continued ethical mishaps.
“If Democrats can be self-aware of these things, it’s going to be difficult for [Republicans] to have a continual drumbeat of issues,” Brodkorb said. “But on the flip side, [Democrats] have had a lot of them so far, and internally, they should be looking at ways they can minimize that.”