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.
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.
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|
Updated: August 03, 2017 03:34 PM
Created: July 26, 2017 08:14 PM
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