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Lobbyist’s suit says McNamara defamed her

Maryann Campo

Maryann Campo

Denny McNamara

Denny McNamara

One of the stranger, more personal controversies to emerge recently in Minnesota’s political scene took another turn Tuesday as lobbyist Maryann Campo filed a lawsuit against Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, claiming his repeated statements about her amounted to defamation.

Campo knows the very thought of a prominent working lobbyist suing a current lawmaker — a committee chair, no less — is an extraordinary circumstance, but said she felt she had no choice but to defend her professional reputation.

“That’s the most important thing — I’m looking to clear my name,” Campo said Tuesday. “I feel that legislators shouldn’t be allowed to bully a lobbyist. I’m doing this for me, and my reputation, but also for other lobbyists who could have a similar problem.”

According to Campo’s complaint, McNamara repeatedly perpetuated false and potentially damaging statements in order to “obscure attention” from an ethics complaint filed against him.

McNamara, through a House GOP communications staffer, issued a “standing no-comment” on the lawsuit. That position means McNamara is standing by a version of events he offered in response to the ethics complaint Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, filed against him in June. At the time, McNamara, relying on a story told to him by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said he felt he was the subject of a “witch hunt” that threatened a tree nursery business founded by McNamara and now owned by his son.

According to Hausman, who also testified on McNamara’s behalf during a subsequent ethics subcommittee hearing, Campo had wondered aloud why the city of Minneapolis continued to do business with McNamara’s son’s company.

McNamara mistakenly thought Hausman’s reference to “a lobbyist” for the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board had been about Brian Rice, a close associate of Kahn’s. The resulting confusion led to an outburst by McNamara, which Kahn determined was unbecoming of a legislator. (Her ethics complaint was summarily dismissed by the ethics subcommittee late last month.)

It later became clear that the subtle threat Hausman passed on had allegedly come from Campo, who has lobbied for the city parks board for a dozen years.

Not true, Campo says now. Campo recalled a conversation that took place between Hausman, herself and another city parks lobbyist outside the House chamber, but said she never made the alleged statement. In fact, according to Campo, it was McNamara who first brought up the topic, when he privately asked Kahn why the city was not purchasing more trees from his son.

“Prior to all of this, I had no knowledge of tree purchasing, which is actually done through the city [Minneapolis], not the parks board,” Campo said. “[McNamara] is the one that brought it up.”

Hausman, reached Tuesday, expressed some hesitancy to discuss civil litigation that involved statements she had made — Hausman is not a party in the legal filing — but said she stood by her testimony at the June hearing.

“I did it under oath,” Hausman said. “You’d want to be pretty clear if you did that. I think it’s the first time in my life I’ve had to take an oath.”

Speaking Tuesday, Campo said she had previously had a strong relationship, both professional and personal, with Hausman. The two had worked closely together, and Hausman, through her position as a capital investment leader for House Democrats, had helped to secure millions of dollars in grants for Minneapolis parks.

Campo thought communications had begun to break down earlier this year when Hausman, who “was furious” about the dedicated revenue for North Mississippi Regional Park, sided with McNamara, who also disliked the earmark and planned to eliminate it in his omnibus budget bill.

Asked about that view, Hausman said she would be deeply troubled by the idea that Campo linked Hausman’s feeling about the bill and her statements about Campo.

“If she connects these two, that, to me, is really dangerous territory,” Hausman said. “We don’t operate that way.”

Campo initially filed a cease-and-desist letter against McNamara in mid-June, after his — and, by extension Hausman’s — version of events first surfaced, but before the ethics hearing, where both lawmakers restated the story. Campo’s civil complaint seeks damages of upwards of $50,000 for defamation, but she said her biggest concern was the defense of her credibility as a lobbyist.

Campo said no one at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board had brought up the incident directly, but she said she could not be certain of her standing with the board until later this year, when her annual contract comes up for renewal. She was also worried about how her involvement in the McNamara-Kahn episode could hurt her chances at landing future clients.

“I don’t know what effect this will have on other potential clients,” Campo said. “The way you get new clients is, people Google you. If these accusations are online, and are out there, never to be taken back … I am very concerned about that financial impact.”

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