Agenda dollars are buying state government jobs

Pamela G. Knowles

Did you know that Minnesota government is for sale? That is, with enough money and an appropriate agenda, you can hire your own staffer to inject your private agenda into an important government office of your choosing?

In 2013, the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation founded its Resilient Cities program and committed $164 million toward hiring chief resilience officers (CROs) in 100 cities around the globe.

Minneapolis eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and received $129,508 from the foundation in 2017 to fund the city’s first CRO.

That position was filled by former DFL state Rep. Kate Knuth, whose salary was paid for by the Rockefeller grant. According to the foundation, “Minneapolis’s resilience initiatives” were to “focus on the city addressing the issues of aging infrastructure, climate change and racial inequities.” Knuth left that position after seven months on the job.

In 2017, according to IRS filings, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private foundation (Bloomberg Family Foundation) donated $5.6 million to develop New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. Since that time, NYU has hired at least 17 attorneys and placed them in 11 states’ attorney general offices.

NYU’s website lists their two-year job description as “advancing progressive clean energy, climate change and environmental legal positions.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison appealed to Bloomberg’s priorities in his application to NYU, even hinting at investigating energy companies if he was given some privately paid for hired help. Minnesota’s AG office landed not one but two of these full-time Bloomberg staffers. They are paid by NYU not the state of Minnesota. According to a Fox News report, NYU files “biweekly reports on its activities” with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Bloomberg must be pleased with his Minnesota investment. According to a June 24, 2020, Star Tribune article, his two lawyers filed a lawsuit against several oil companies and refiners hoping to replicate Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation tobacco litigation that made a Minnesota law firm’s partners into mega-millionaires.

Beyond their filing massive lawsuits against “big oil,” we know only bits and pieces about what these privately funded staffers do in the offices of attorneys general. For example, in the application received by NYU from the New York attorney general, they listed as part of their offices’ environmental advocacy work “opposing the Scott Pruitt nomination as EPA administrator, advocating for the United States to remain in the Paris Climate Accord” among other things.

Yet Minnesotans know almost nothing about these “special assistant” attorneys general — an unheard-of lack of transparency from our state’s chief law enforcement officer.

Are they doing political work while working in the State Capitol? Do they continue to serve on private environmental boards while working in the AG’s office? Do they have any conflicts of interest that taxpayers should be aware of? What sort of reporting to Bloomberg is done on this work? These are just a few of the questions that should concern every Minnesotan.

Imagine, if you will, in next year’s election, that tides turn and a Republican were sworn in as attorney general in 2023. That attorney general then receives a solicitation from the National Rifle Association’s Foundation, offering to fund free legal staff as needed for pet projects of the newly elected attorney general. The cries of outrage from the Legislature, the news media and government watchdog organizations would be deafening, as well they should be.

They would all be asking the same questions, and they are fair questions. Who is running our government? Are jobs for sale in key offices? Whose agenda are they advancing?

It was almost one year ago when Bloomberg closed down his presidential campaign. He reportedly spent $500 million on that quixotic quest and won only the territory of American Samoa in the Democratic primaries. He said as he admitted defeat that “Our campaign has ended, but our fight is not over.”

Apparently so. He can just transfer millions more to NYU and continue his fight with Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office doing his bidding.

Annette Meeks is CEO of the Minnesota Freedom Foundation.

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