Ababiy: Rep. Daudt’s brazen step into the revolving door

The public affairs solution we need is to end the revolving door. But it doesn’t look like that door will be closing anytime soon.

Jonathan Ababiy

Crown, Minnesota resident Kurt Daudt, made a big career move a couple weeks ago. According to a press release from his employer Stateside Associates, a D.C. government relations firm which describes itself as a leader in state and local government affairs, Daudt would join as a part-time Director of Public Affairs. His role would require him to provide “support” to Stateside’s clients with public affairs “solutions.” 

In a sentence straight from the PR thesaurus of obfuscation, it also said that Daudt would “avail” those clients with deep knowledge gained from legislative experience and give them access to leaders and officials in “all 50 states.”

Daudt does have a deep knowledge of the legislative process. There’s no denying that; his other gig is a $65,000-per-year one as the Republican Minority Leader of the Minnesota House. Taking a page from DFL Rep. Jamie Long, Daudt is dipping his hand in the cookie jar that being in the halls of power can create.

According to what Daudt told the Star Tribune, the Minnesota House legal counsel said the gig was okay and didn’t break the House chamber rules. What’s objectionable is that it didn’t. 

The State Legislature is a revolving door into the lobbying world, if legislators even leave at all. That puts our elected leaders in the pocket of special interests. DFL Rep. Long, who resigned his nebulous not-lobbying-but-really-just-lobbying job after backlash, and GOP Rep. Daudt are the latest two to cash out.

At this point the practice is so common in the Legislature’s history that it’s practically a part of its DNA.  

In 2015, the Pioneer Press’ Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Dan Bauman wrote an article excellently titled, “Leap from legislator to lobbyist a short one in Minnesota.” The sheer frequency of the revolving door was laid bare. From 2002 to March 2015, at least five dozen legislators had registered to lobby, according to the Pioneer Press. There wasn’t much of a difference between Republicans and Democrats, either.  

There are rules about lobbying during and after the legislature, but as Daudt’s job demonstrates, they don’t mean much. In the Minnesota House’s rules, legislators may not register as lobbyists within a year of leaving office. But, the rules are vague to the point of uselessness when it comes to current legislators who do what is quite obviously lobbying, but not lobbying under the statutory definition. 

For example, Daudt will be giving “public affairs solutions” to Stateside’s Clients in every state but Minnesota. The press release says all 50 states, but Daudt told the Star Tribune he wouldn’t work in Minnesota. But, those clients still lobby in Minnesota. Stateside works for Comcast, and according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board, Comcast spent $160,000 on lobbying in 2018 in Minnesota.The same goes for Delta Airlines and General Motors, who each spent $240,000 and $60,000, respectively, on Minnesotan lobbying in 2018. 

The Pioneer Press report from 2015 found that the House rule about lobbying on and after the job was regularly ignored, and the Minnesota Senate didn’t and still doesn’t even have a rule. Obviously, the system is broken. That means the revolving door will keep shuffling our elected leaders out and drawing in the cold blast of wind that is a government run by special interests. 

The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin complained and told the Star Tribune that Daudt’s job opens him up to massive conflicts of interest. He’s right. But, it isn’t an issue that Democrats have any moral superiority. History has proven that Democrats aren’t afraid to get in the lobbying game, either. Perhaps some Democrats have been been more vocal about it, but their behavior says otherwise. 

So, expect nothing to change.