Minnesota gov’t given low grade for transparency

A watchdog nonprofit gave Minnesota a D- grade for state integrity and accountability.

Melissa Steinken

Issues with an opaque Minnesotan government became clear after a recently released report gave the state a low grade for accountability in its legislative practices.
 
In a report released earlier this month, the nonprofit group Center for Public Integrity gave Minnesota a D- grade for a lack of political transparency and limited access to government information, among other reasons. Overall, the study — which was conducted to measure states’ corruption risk — ranked Minnesota 28th nationwide.
 
House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he blamed part of the poor grade on a frantic end to the last legislative session, where a jobs and energy bill was pushed through with minutes to spare before the end of the session. 
 
That bill was eventually vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. 
 
“Relatively, [Minnesota] is a good government state in general,” Thissen said. “But there is a lack of trust when things are hidden behind closed doors,” 
 
He said many lawmakers didn’t have a chance to read through the bill before voting on it.
 
“At the end of last session, so much happened behind closed doors,” he said
 
Though Minnesota was given grades as low as F in areas like government accountability, public access to information and ethics enforcement, it ranked near the top of the U.S. in internal auditing and electoral oversight. 
 
Only three states received grades higher than D+. With a C grade, Alaska was the top state in the Union. 
 
Katie Nelson, who authored Minnesota’s section of the report, said she found the state’s ethical oversight to be weak. 
 
She said Minnesota ethics oversight bodies are underfunded and understaffed. 
 
Another concern she said she had was that once state legislators retire, they are not required to wait before they can become lobbyists.
 
“They are lobbying support from fellow politicians,” Nelson said. “There’s a sphere of influence where it’s not regulated at all.”
 
University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs political science professor Larry Jacobs said while Minnesota may not be known as a corrupt state compared to others, the state has a “ripe” environment for trading political favors.
 
“It touches the distrust that a lot of Americans have on the government — if [politicians] are fighting for them or in the back pocket of the government,” he said.
 
But House Majority Whip Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said in an emailed statement he believes some of the concerns, like some lawmakers meeting behind closed doors to negotiate legislation, are inaccurate.
 
“I believe Minnesotans have confidence in their government and their elected officials, as well as the groups and laws in place to hold the government accountable,” he said in the statement.
 
To avoid concerns in the future, Thissen said the state should adopt rules that require more than a day’s notice to review bills.
 
While the report raised concerns about public access to public information, Nick Wilson, the Minnesota Student Association’s director of government and legislative affairs, said he hasn’t encountered any accessibility problems when working with legislators.
 
“Generally, when I work with state legislators, they are very happy to talk to students,” he said.