Pawlenty's ethics run into tree

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Pawlenty's ethics run into tree

Governor Tim Pawlenty gave new meaning to the phrase "stumping for votes" early last month when his borrowed all-terrain vehicle hit a stump and plowed into a tree, causing $2500 worth of damage. That the incident occurred the spring convention of the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota (ATVAM) no doubt earned the Gov a fair amount of ribbing.

But hey, what's a little mishap among friends? The Minnesota-based Polaris Corporation, the manufacturer of the $7000 vehicle, quickly announced they would do the repairs free of charge.

But in a June 9 letter to the Campaign Finance Board, Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville), the de facto ethical conscience at the Capitol, claims that Pawlenty's failure to rent the ATV he was using or pay for the damages he incurred to it violated the state's gift ban (more officially statute 10A.071), designed to discourage even the appearance of lobbyists influencing public officials through bribes large or small.

Lest you think Marty is just a royal stick in the mud (or stump in the path) bent on preventing everyone from having some innocent fun, his letter notes that there is an "obvious incentive" for Polaris and the ATVAM to try and curry favor with the Gov. Both are currently seeking less restrictive laws governing ATV use on public lands, an issue in which the governor and his DNR commissioner obviously have influence. In addition, Marty notes that the ATVAM is currently seeking public funding from the state, and that "the governor's DNR budget proposal calls for a grant program in which ATVAM would likely be the only eligible recipient for about $350,000 in tax revenue during the next two years!

"The gift ban was designed to prevent conflicts of interest like this, where groups seeking taxpayer funds or other favors from state government curry favor by giving freebies/gifts to elected officials who have a say in giving those favors," Marty adds.

Read the entire letter and three news stories about the original incident below.

 

June 9, 2005

To: Campaign Finance Board
Fr: John Marty
Re: Complaint regarding possible violation of 10A.071

According to news reports, Governor Pawlenty participated in an ATV ride on May 7th, at a convention sponsored by ATVAM, the All Terrain Vehicle Assn of Minnesota, a registered principal (Campaign Finance Board Registration # 3438.)

According to those news reports, the governor was riding a 2005 ATV, valued at $7000, owned by Polaris, also a registered principal (Campaign Finance Board Registration # 3490.) The governor crashed into a tree during the ride, causing $2500 in damage to the machine. Polaris indicated that they would cover the cost of repairs because it was their vehicle.

Under 10A.071 subd 2, both Polaris and ATVAM would be prohibited from giving a gift to Governor Pawlenty, and he would be prohibited from accepting a gift from them.

Unless the Governor paid rent for the machine under the same terms and conditions that any other person could rent them from Polaris or ATVAM (assuming that Polaris and ATVAM have an existing hourly or daily ATV rental program*), this would be a violation of the gift ban. In addition, if the governor was not renting the machine under a contract which covered collision damage coverage, the $2500 repair covered by Polaris would also be a prohibited gift.

According to one of the news reports, "the governor's spokesman, Brian McClung, said that rides or equipment used by the governor in tourism-related promotions apparently do not come under the gift ban."

Contrary to Mr. McClung's statement, the law does not contain an exception for gifts provided as part of "tourism-related promotions."

This is not an insignificant issue. The gift ban was enacted in order to reduce the influence of lobbyists and lobbying organizations in the political process.

In this case, there is an obvious incentive for ATVAM and Polaris to gain influence by providing a gift that would curry favor with the governor and other public officials - Both Polaris and ATVAM are seeking less restrictive laws governing ATV use on public lands, an issue that the governor and his DNR commissioner are clearly involved in.

Also, ATVAM is seeking public funding from the state. ATVAM's desire to obtain funding from the state is not a mere pipe dream - the governor's DNR budget proposal calls for a grant program in which ATVAM would likely be the only eligible recipient for about $350,000 in tax revenue during the next two years!

The gift ban was designed to prevent conflicts of interest like this, where groups seeking taxpayer funds or other favors from state government curry favor by giving freebies/gifts to elected officials who have a say in giving those favors.

I request that you investigate this situation to see whether there was a violation of 10A.071 by the Governor, and also whether there was a violation by either Polaris or ATVAM or both.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

John Marty

* If ATVAM or Polaris did not have an hourly or daily rental program for their vehicles available to the general public, it would appear that this would be a violation of the gift ban even if the governor paid rent for the ATV at the time of the ride. As the Campaign Finance Board stated in Advisory Opinion 287, "However, if there is not a market through which members of the public may purchase rights equivalent to those the Association intends to make available to officials, then the transaction is prohibited by Minn. Rules part 4512.0100, subp. 3(C), and may not be undertaken regardless of the amount of consideration paid by the official."

attached: three news articles regarding the ATV ride

Strib piece

WCCO piece

KSTP piece


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