Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ripple in Stillwater files Campaign Finance Board complaint over Stillwater lobbyist who's not a lobbyist

Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki: 'Really, he doesn't do any lobbying.'

Ripple in Stillwater author Karl Bremer has filed a formal complaint with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFB) over the alleged lobbying of unregistered lobbyist Mike Campbell on behalf of the City of Stillwater.

On April 19, Stillwater entered into an agreement with Michael Campbell of the Conach Group in Stillwater for “Legislative support for the St Croix River Crossing extension of the State Trail system, support for the New Armory Project and Phase III of the Levee Wall project.”

According to the contract with the City, the Conach Group is “To secure the required support of the Federal Government State of Minnesota and any administrative Department of either entity for the approval and funding of the pending St. Croix River Crossing at Stillwater” and “To secure Minnesota Legislative funding for the State purchase of the MN Zephyr Railroad Right of Way as an extension of the State Trail system, support for the New Armory Project and Phase III of the Levy Wall Project." According to the contract, “Consultant services will be rendered largely at the Consultant office and the State of Minnesota Capitol.”

But neither the lobbyist, Mike Campbell, nor anyone else with his firm, the Conach Group, are registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFB) or with the U.S. Senate or Congress. In fact, there are no lobbyists representing the City of Stillwater registered with the state at this time.

However, Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki continues to insist that Campbell is not a lobbyist at all, even though he told the Stillwater Gazette: “Campbell is a well-connected person and has helped get two bills passed at the legislature, he is getting results.”

"Really, he doesn't do any lobbying," Harycki told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, apparently with a straight face. "He doesn't make calls to legislators for us. He tells us what the status of bills are, what some of the pitfalls are that are facing us and who we should call to address those pitfalls or to make that final push."

Although the city's contract states that Campbell's work will be "rendered largely at the Consultant office and at the State of Minnesota Capitol," Harycki told the Pioneer Press: "Usually, a lobbyist will go to the Legislature on your behalf and talk to them--he doesn't do that."

What exactly Campbell is doing for his $1,500 a month in taxpayer "legislative consulting" fees is unclear. Harycki and the Stillwater City Council rejected an attempt to require him to file monthly progress reports with the Council.

According to Council minutes, “Mayor Harycki suggested that any published reporting may impede some of the ongoing discussions.” The contract states only that “The City will rely upon the Consultant to put forth such effort as is reasonably necessary to fulfill the spirit and purpose of the Contract” and that “the nature of the work done by consultant will be reviewed at least quarterly to determine whether work should be deleted or added based upon changed circumstances.”

If Campbell were legally registered as a lobbyist, as it appears he should be, he would be required to keep detailed records of expenditures and file reports with the CFB. According to the CFB Lobbyist Handbook:

Records must be kept separately for administrative lobbying, legislative lobbying or the lobbying of a metropolitan governmental unit in the following categories:
Disbursements for:

  • preparing and distributing lobbying materials;
  • media advertising;
  • telephone and all other communication services;
  • postage and distribution costs associated with lobbying activities;
  • fees, allowances, public relations campaigns including consulting and other expenses related with those services;
  • entertainment;
  • food and beverages;
  • travel and lodging;
  • administrative costs and salary of support staff attributable to lobbying; and
  • all other disbursements including general administration and overhead and any other lobbyist disbursements not reported in other categories,
  • gifts or benefits paid or given to officials, and
  • other sources of funds of more than $500 in a calendar year given for purposes of lobbying, including fees or salary paid to a lobbyist as compensation.
Records must be kept for four years.

As it stands, whatever the public wants to know about what Campbell is doing for $1,500 a month or how he's spending taxpayers' money must be gleaned from his quarterly report filed with the City Council.

For his part, Campbell, a business agent for Cambria. told the Pioneer Press he was perplexed about the CFB complaint.

"It makes it seem as if something dastardly is going on. If I was going to the Capitol and lobbying, I would simply register as a lobbyist. I don't want to register as a lobbyist."

After reviewing the complaint, the CFB will determine whether to proceed with an investigation of the matter. According to the CFB, within 30 days, the board will make a public finding of whether or not there is probable cause to believe a violation has occurred.


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