Like many Minnesota DFL House Caucus employees, Legislative Assistant Peter DeRose needed to make a career decision after the Democrats lost control of the lower chamber of the state legislature in November 2014.
Fortunately for DeRose, son of Laura Bakk, legislative assistant for Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Division (Finance) chair David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and stepson of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), the young staffer quickly found another position.
For a young operative with one session of experience, DeRose has picked up a small but choice stable of clients in the horseracing, concrete, metal recycling, commercial construction and tobacco industries, according to his registration online at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board:
Indeed, DeRose shares clients not only with the Jerich family, but with the legendary Dick Day, a former Republican Senator Minority Leader from Owatonna in lobbying for Kraus-Anderson Construction and RAI Services (formerly known as Reynolds American, a tobacco company).
A legend in his own right, Jerich lobbies for Ag Mafia organizations as the MN Corn Growers Assn and Bushmills Ethanol among other clients. Profiled last summer in a Politics in Minnesota feature, Ron Jerich: A Pal of the pols:
Through his frequent political fundraisers, Jerich remains an important cash source of candidates. His roster of 21 registered lobbying clients includes some of the biggest names in Minnesota business — Delta Air Lines, CenturyLink and Krause-Anderson Construction among them. Another client, RAI Services Inc., is a subsidiary of tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc., formerly R.J. Reynolds.
. . . Jerich doesn’t draw stark moralistic lines around the clients he will or won’t represent. If a business is engaged in legal activity — whether popular or not — it deserves to make its case before policymakers. That’s his job, Jerich says.
Friends say that what matters most to Jerich are the relationships he works so hard to foster and maintain, whether with clients, policymakers, agency heads or anybody else. . . .
Although the profile doesn't mention it, Jerich played a role in one of the less savory moments in recent Minnesota political history: the case of the American Bankers Insurance Company campaign check. A 2010 article in City Pages, The 10 most influential lobbyists in Minnesota, noted in "The Unholy Relic":
Ron Jerich is a jocular character, exceedingly charismatic and quick with a joke. But beneath the grandfatherly veneer, according to those who've dealt with him, is a hustler with savoir-faire, money, and connections to burn. In that sense, Jerich is a throwback to a different era. He personifies the influence-peddling backdoor dealer who roamed Capitol halls before a 1993 gift ban put a damper on their activities.
"To this day, though, he certainly plays on his friendships and connections more than anyone I can think of," says a Democratic senator.
The quintessential contract lobbyist—"hired guns," they're often called—Jerich leaves few clues as to his personal sympathies. The one trait his clients all have in common is deep pockets: Xcel Energy, MN Ethanol Producers Association, Qwest, and Delta Airlines top the list. [BDP note: only Delta remains on Jerich's list]
Jerich's far-reaching clout is best illustrated by a 2002 scandal that he helped resolve. At the time, American Bankers Insurance Group was facing a $10 million fine for selling unlicensed insurance policies to about 200,000 Minnesotans. Looking to avoid what was then the state's largest-ever civilian penalty, American Bankers sought to implement a "political strategy," according to sworn testimony. Jerich recommended they get friendly with ranking officials, a political strategy that entailed getting rid of James Bernstein, commerce commissioner under then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. To that end, American Bankers cut a $10,000 check to the Tim Pawlenty for Governor campaign, which was illegal.
"It speaks to Jerich's reputation as a money man, a guy who'd take you over to the Blue Horse and pay for your martini and lunch," says a state investigator familiar with the case. "But since you can't do that anymore, Ron likes to pass the money around through committees and to his friends."
Jerich didn't return messages requesting an interview and was never accused of any legal wrongdoing associated with the case. Officers at American Bankers agreed to settle for $2 million.
"Pawlenty gave them a sweetheart settlement," says the investigator, "It was much, much less than anybody thought."
Bluestem congratulates Mr. DeRose on his new job and looks forward to watching all parties involved as they leverage those friendships and connections during the session.
Screenshots: Online news of Mr. DeRose's job. Nice work if you can get it.
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