Audit Shows Numerous Lawmakers Provided Guests Free Access to TCF Bank Stadium Suite

August 03, 2017 03:34 PM

More than two dozen state lawmakers and public officials are accused of violating "a core ethical" principle by providing friends and family members free access to a TCF Bank Stadium suite to watch University of Minnesota football games last season, according to a legislative audit released Wednesday morning.

Legislative Auditor James Nobles reviewed the use of publicly financed stadiums in Minnesota after public officials committed similar violations at U.S. Bank Stadium, leading to the resignations of two appointed stadium officials.

In a stinging rebuke, Nobles questioned the use of the hospitality suite at TCF Bank Stadium which is used by University President Eric Kaler and the Board of Regents to entertain family, friends, donors, as well as state and federal officials. Free food and alcohol are served in the suite.


RELATED: Legislative Auditor Recommends Regents Restrict Suite Access at TCF Bank Stadium

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reviewed the guest list examined by the auditor's office, which showed a bi-partisan slate of state senators, representatives and appointed officials who attended games with their family members and friends.

For example, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) each brought a guest to the first game of the season against Oregon State University on Sept. 1.

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and Rep. Jason Isaacson (DFL-Shoreview) each brought three family members to the Iowa game on Oct. 8.

Those four legislators, along with their guests, were listed as "government relations guests" of President Kaler. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS contacted the lawmakers but they did not respond to whether they have reimbursed the university for the admission of their guests.

RELATED: State Auditor Questions Suite Access at Vikings Stadium

While Nobles found it reasonable for Kaler to allow special guests like donors, honored alumni and long-time faculty members to invite family members, he stated, "it seems harder to see a public purpose . . . when invited legislators are allowed to bring guests."

A university spokesperson issued a statement Wednesday, saying the institution "strives to operate transparently, and we take the legislative auditor's report very seriously. We intend to use the report as an opportunity to review existing practices and policies related to use of the regents and president's suite at TCF Bank Stadium."

The use of the stadium suite did not violate any state laws but Nobles specifically stated that providing friends or family members access to a "university sporting event free of charge in a stadium suite" qualifies as an ethical violation because it is a benefit that most members of the general public cannot access.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked every state and federal official who attended a football game in the suite for a response to the audit findings.

Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Shakopee) defended his attendance at the Northwestern game last November. He did not bring a guest.

"As a member of the Higher Education Committee at the state legislature, I was offered a ticket and considered it an opportunity to build relationships with university leaders in a social setting," he said.

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith watched the Rutgers game with her husband from the suite last fall, but paid for both tickets, according to her office.

Matt Massman, Commissioner of the state's Department of Administration, attended the Northwestern game with a family member. He did not pay for the tickets at the time, but now plans to reimburse the university, according to his office.  

Susan Closmore, a spokesperson for the House of Representatives, stated in an email that the University is not subject to a ban on gifts because it is "funded by the Legislature and lawmakers, from both parties, attend University events as part of oversight of University operations."

She added, "We are reviewing the OLA's report that was issued today -- current law allows members to attend and no rules have been violated."

Federal officials also used the suite the last fall. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn) both attended the Rutgers game with their spouses, but paid for admission. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn) did not pay to bring three family members to the Northwestern game, according to his office.

". . . no admission fees were requested. Therefore, no fees were paid," Walz's office said in a statement.

Public officials who received access to a suite at TCF Bank Stadium

Elected/Appointed Game Reimbursement for admission
Speaker Kurt Daudt and guest Oregon No response
Rep. Tonigh Albright and family Oregon No response
Sen. Kari Dziedzic and guest Oregon No response
Sen. Scott Dibble and guest Oregon No response
Rep. Nick Zerwas and family Indiana No response
Commissioner Larry Pogemiller ( Minnesota Department of High Education) and guest Indiana Paid for ticket
Rep. Alice Hausman Colorado State No response
Sen. Rod Skoe and guest Colorado State No response
Sen. Dave Tomassoni and guests Colorado State No response
Mark Phillips (IRRRB Commissioner) Iowa No response
Sen. Ron Latz and guest Iowa No response
Rep. Rod Hamilton and family Iowa No response
Rep. Jason Isaacson and family Iowa No response
Rep. Bud Nornes and family Iowa No response
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and guest Rutgers Paid for tickets
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith Rutgers Paid for tickets
Sen. Jeremy Miller Rutgers No response
Rep. Nick Zerwas Purdue No response
Sen. Roger Reinert Purdue No response
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer and guest Purdue Paid for tickets
Rep. John Lesch and guest Purdue No response
Rep. Pat Garofalo and guest Purdue No response
Judge Dave Battey and guest  Purdue No response
Commissioner Matt Massman Northwestern Reimbursing as of Wednesday
Sen. Dick Cohen Northwestern No response
Sen. Eric Pratt Northwestern No response
Rep. Paul Torkelson and guest Northwestern No response
Rep. Sarah Anderson North Western Paid for tickets


Ben Rodgers

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