Watching the David Tomassoni dual-career drama unfold, a reader contacted Bluestem about another lawmaker's interesting career path.
Like Tomassoni, Sanders switched jobs after being elected, from "Commercial Insurance Representative, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company" to "consultant," according to his page at the Legislative Reference Library's Legislators Past and Present.
The listing shows the Blaine lawmaker switching careers sometime between his second term (insurance guy) and his third term (consultant).
According to Sanders' economic interest statement online at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, the suburban legislator is an employee of Ainsley Shea LLC and a director of Concordia Group LLC (there's no active limited liability corporation [LLC] with that name registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State under that name; as there is no address listed at the MCFPB statement, it's not possible to tell on a Saturday where the firm is located).
Ainsley Shea is a strategy and communication firm that solves "a lot of problems in Business, Trade and Politics for clients who run some of the coolest organizations, industry groups and campaigns on the planet." Its Linked-In page lists "Public Affairs, Public Relations, Government Affairs, Marketing Communications, Advertising, Digital Platforms, Graphic Design, Web Services, Creative & Technical Writing, Social Media" as specialties. "Government Affairs" is ordinarily known as lobbying.
When we bring Tim Sanders to a client meeting with us, it’s kind of like stuffing a ballot box – the client wins!
Tim knows Public Relations. Politics. Policy. Small Business. Big Ideas. He lives and breathes our business and brings tons of effective leadership, strategy and communications skills to Ainsley Shea. His knowledge, experience and network of political and government contacts add depth to the Ainsley Shea experience and helps clients win the stuff that needs winning.
Speaking of the ballot box – he serves our state in the House of Representatives. First elected at age 26, Tim is now serving his third term in the Minnesota House and his esteemed colleagues recently elected him to serve as Minority Whip.
Tim represents the rapidly growing Twin Cities suburb of Blaine, home to the National Sports Center, the TPC Twin Cities PGA golf course and a host of well-known corporations, including the Aveda Institute and Key Air. He is also a member of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission.
Tim is a sought-after consultant, well-respected public official, a great dad and family guy. He’s got our vote!
Bluestem has captured the moment in the screenshot at the top of the page. We do hope that the firm updates the Sanders' biography (he's now an assistant majority leader), as well as his job title, "senior counselor."
The website does not list who Sanders' clients might be.
For all the chattiness about Sanders' service in the legislature and "network of political and government contacts" on the firm's website, Sanders is not a registered lobbyist in the state of Minnesota.The thought caused fantods in a Minnesota Tea Party Alliance blog post last April. Sanders does not appear to have been a lobbyist for the National Popular Vote in Minnesota at any time.
He does appear to work for one, however, unless the Ainsley Shea website and his own economic interest statement are incorrect, as well as the information on the reference library page.
CEO Patrick Rosenstiel serves as the Designated Lobbyist for the National Popular Vote. The electoral reform campaign is his only client at this time.
Rosenstiel registered as the group's lobbyist on August 6, 2008.
As a lawmaker, Sanders has so far authored four bills in 2015, one of which tweaks campaign finance law and public disclosure. In the 2013-2014 session, he was a co-author of St. Paul DFLer John Lesch's HF799, a National Popular Vote bill, along with thirteen other co-sponsors. Prior to his work at Ainsley Shea, he co-authored Pat Garfalo's HF495 in 2011-2012, another National Popular Vote bill.
In his first term, Sanders was not a sponsor of an earlier National Popular Vote bill, Steve Simon's HF512. Simon now serves as Minnesota's Secretary of State.
Does this matter?
There's no clear-cut conflict of interest here as law defines it, but the switch from Commercial Insurance Representative to a consultant (or senior counselor) for a company involved in "Public Affairs, Public Relations, Government Affairs" among other activities is problematic in the absence of any transparency about Sanders' accounts and clients.
Moreover, the firm pitches the lawmaker's "network of political and government contacts [that] add[s] depth to the Ainsley Shea experience and helps clients win the stuff that needs winning." That's what he's selling--but to whom? And where?
We simply don't know--and the appearance of a sitting legislator chairing a committee about elections while working for a firm whose CEO is the designated lobbyist for an electoral reform proposal should give pause. While the Tea Party Alliance was incorrect about Sanders being a lobbyist, they were on to a weaknesses about transparency.
This arrangement--like Senator Tomassoni's new job leading an organization that lobbies the legislature--corrodes public trust. Perhaps it's time for Minnesota to revisit its disclosure laws so that citizens can assess the information they need to figure out just for whom lawmakers are working when they craft our laws in St. Paul.
Screenshot: Blaine Republican state representative Tim Sanders' bio at his employer's firm.
Note: While there's no Concordia Group LLC in Minnesota, a number of LLCs with this name operate in other states, including this political operative firm in Iowa. It's not possible at the time of publication to determine if that's the firm for which Sanders is a director.
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