Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sviggum finds yet another ethical gray area

“In 34 and a half years of public service, my ethics has [sic] never, ever, ever been questioned,” Sviggum said. “Nor will it be.”
Sviggum with gray background
New GOP Senate Caucus Communication Director Steve Sviggum has a long record of public service, but a short memory.

Today, Sviggum attempted to throw himself under the bus to protect the rest of the GOP Senate Caucus from the consequences of using Senate staff time and Senate copiers to run off 4800 copies of a "constituent piece" that included a link to a Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus fundraising site. On Monday, his boss Dave Senjem brushed off concerns about the piece. It had been vetted by the Senate's attorney, and everything was kosher. Late in the day on Tuesday, just minutes after a campaign finance complaint was filed, Sviggum changed his tune:
"While yesterday we had vetted the language of the piece as being within constituent service and being within appropriate legal and ethical outreach, the link to the website was wrong," Sviggum said. "That is my fault and my problem."
Something about this whole "but it was thoroughly vetted by the lawyers" thing seems familiar. I wonder why?

In regard to serving as a University of Minnesota Regent and working for the Republican Senate Caucus
"I vetted the policy up front. I clarified the policy with the [general counsel]. I clarified with the chair," Sviggum said.
Which drew the following rebuke by U of M General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, who supposedly "vetted" the policy:
"Regent Sviggum did not discuss the job or consult about it with either the chair or vice chair of the Board of Regents prior to taking the position. Nor did Regent Sviggum discuss taking this position with the university general counsel or seek his advice about doing so."
Sviggum's status as a Regent is still up in the air. So much for vetting.

Of course, this is on the heels of yet another conflict of interest that forced Sviggum to resign his position as a U of M Humphrey Institute fellow. Guess what? That was vetted too! The only problem was that the committee that reviewed his candidacy for Regent didn't know about his new job:
Sviggum was recruited to apply for a seat on the board, and maintains he was always open about his position at the U. The Regent Candidate Advisory Council sorts through names of potential regents and sends them on to lawmakers to make the final choice. Jane Belau, who chairs the group, said they knew Sviggum taught occasionally at the U. But he said Sviggum was identified as a candidate in January, and his role at the U was expanded a month later. "The council sent its names over before the contract was signed between Regent Sviggum and the University of Minnesota," Belau said.
Eventually, Regent Sviggum resigned his Humphrey job after being asked to step down. But Sviggum still insists that his dual role was proper:
“I think it was wrong. I think if you would have pressed it, there was no prohibition to being a legislative fellow. There was no prohibition to being a university employee. I had already been elected regent. I think if I’d pressed it through a court of law or a process … I think the rulings would have come my direction."
And since Sviggum brought it up, this recent string of actions in the gray areas of ethics and conflict of interest rules isn't just a recent thing. Back in 2003, then Speaker Sviggum was asked by three DFL legislators to recuse himself from decisions about ethanol since a farm he jointly owned with his brothers benefited from ethanol subsidies. Once again, Sviggum recognized the perception of a conflict but refused to recuse himself. His supervisor-to-be at his ill-fated Humphrey job came to his defense (as he would again 8 years later):
University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says he doesn't think Sviggum is violating any ethics rules. He says Sviggum's case falls into a "gray area." 
There's that phrase again. But let's remember:
“In 34 and a half years of public service, my ethics has [sic] never, ever, ever been questioned,” Sviggum said. “Nor will it be.” 
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