Thursday, November 21, 2013

What The Hann is Going On Over in the MN Senate?

The Star Tribune reported a few days ago that the Minnesota State Senate’s Federal Campaign Committee is paying former state senator Ray Vandeveer $1500 a month for consulting services.

This news raised some eyebrows, for a variety of reasons, depending on who you are and how much you know.

I will state for the record right away that I think David Hann has been a trainwreck as Minority Leader, and should be replaced immediately. But we’ll get into that a bit later.

For now, let’s deconstruct what’s going on here. Here’s what we know:

  • David Hann hired former state senator Ray Vandeveer to consult on “various tasks to prepare Senate Republicans for the 2016 elections.”

  • Hann is unaware whether Vandeveer has ever been paid for political work in the past.

  • Hann considers Vandeveer “a friend.”

  • Hann speaks to Vandeveer “fairly often.”

  • Hann talked over hiring Vandeveer with others, but the decision to hire him was ultimately Hann’s.

  • Vandeveer is being paid from the MN State Senate’s Federal Committee, named the Senate Victory PAC (Campaign ID C00506410).

We also know that the fact that Vandeveer was doing work for the Senate was not widely know among members of the Senate caucus, as reported at Politics.MN.

Now, let’s take the controversies that have been alleged, one by one.  These are items I have heard or read elsewhere since the story broke on Monday.

  • Why does the MN State Senate have a Federal Committee when they are a state entity?  - I don’t know the answer to this, but I assume it has something to do with the labyrinthine nature of campaign finance laws. Both the House and Senate Caucuses of the DFL and GOP have these committees, so the existence of the committees is not unique to this situation.

  • Hann is a criminal because he illegally took corporate contributions - This particularly stupid allegation comes to us from blogger Two Putt Tommy. Tommy fails to understand the difference between corporate contributions and contributions from PACs, called Separate Segregated Funds (SSFs), which are not funded with corporate money, but with contributions from the personal funds of employees who work for a business or belong to a group such as a union. The existence of SSFs is perfectly legal and common. Both the GOP and DFL routinely take contributions from these funds. Tommy, as usual, misses the point entirely and adds nothing to the conversation.

  • Hann’s arrangement to pay Vandeveer using federal funds to work on state races is illegal - This allegation, made by someone blogging under the name “The Big E” on racist blog MN Progressive Project, is harder to nail down. Several people have opined both publicly and privately about the potential illegality of this arrangement. A few have defended it.

    I am not a campaign finance expert, so I don’t have a ruling on this. I do know that in general, campaign finance matters remind me of professional sports- everyone fancies themselves an expert, but only a few actually know what they are talking about.

    An analysis of the four Senate/House GOP & DFL federal committees going back to 2010 does show that the arrangement of paying someone for consulting on a regular basis from a federal account is unique to the Hann/Vandeveer situation, meaning it’s not a typical arrangement for these types of accounts. Make of that what you will.

Whether the Vandeveer arrangement is legal or not is irrelevant to me. (If it’s illegal, it will be dealt with, as it’s now out in the wide open. If it’s not, then it’s not.)

To me, the largest issue in this whole affair is that David Hann hired “a friend” with dubious qualifications to do unspecified work, and did it in secret. One would think that if Vanderveer were bringing value to the Senate’s campaign operation, this would not be the type of thing that you’d keep quiet.  Instead members of the Senate caucus get to find out who is allegedly working for them by reading the StarTribune.

This, of course, is not the first time that a Friend of Hann™ with dubious qualifications has found themselves gainfully employed. Or been allowed to stay employed on the taxpayer’s dime while off running (or I guess he prefers the term “advising”) some other campaign. One could get the impression that being a friend of David Hann could be a quite lucrative thing to be.

Hann has a pattern of poor decision making. He has terrible political instincts, and he is a liability in a position where we desperately need an asset.

Minnesota’s Senate Republicans are a guaranteed minority through 2016.  If we allow the cronyism and incompetence of the Hann Dynasty to continue, we will be a minority for a lot longer than that.

It’s time the other GOP Senators stand up and do what needs to be done. It’s time for a new Minority Leader.

Actually, it’s past time.