In yesterday's Post Bulletin, Heather Carlson reports in Candidate drops out of race after alleged strip club visit with Rochester lawmaker:
His announcement comes less than a week after DFL activist and blogger Shawn Towle with Checks & Balances commented on Twitter that he had talked with Nguyen and the candidate confirmed he'd been to a strip club with a Republican leader. A later Twitter post said Nguyen had been seen with Senjem at the the Seville Club in Minneapolis.
Republican blogger Jeff Kolb followed up on those tweets, calling for more Republicans to get in the race. He also tweeted that he had talked with Nguyen who "confirmed he was at a strip club with Senjem on Senjem's birthday."
Bluestem paused in the middle of the first sentence, since Checks & Balances is no longer publishing, its archives are no longer online at its URL and the last post with content at the Internet Wayback Machine is the August 4, 2012 crawl. The content is about the Quist for Congress campaign, The Internet Wayback Machine lists two later crawls, September 3, 2012, and November 3, 2012, but only login screens were captured.
Is Checks and Balances still a thing?
The last time Towle tweeted new blog content via the Checks and Balances twitter account was November 15, 2012, although it's impossible to determine the exact date of publication of the post-election material:
It's fair to say that Shawn Towle hasn't been an active blogger for well over a year. When Bluestem contacted Carlson about Towle's non-blogger status, her response was professional, grounded in the fact that Towle is listed in the capitol news media directory. She was surprised that he was still listed.
Hired gun: Enlightened Enterprises and media credentials
But there's a more serious issue with Towle's continued inclusion in the Senate Media Directory, that Carlson acknowledged and conservative bloggers have explored (although their examination of his content in tweets and Wayback Machine archives are cursory).
The issues were first pointed out on Look True North by CAE Senior Fellow and former Republican legislative candidate Bill Glahn in two posts, Hired Guns and Hired Guns, Part 2. The issue was echoed by conservative and capitol media credentialed blogger Mitch Berg in The Ringer.
In Hired Guns, Glahn writes:
It turns out that in 2012 and 2013, the senate Democrats paid a total of $30,250 for “research” to a company listed as “Enlighten Enterprise” of 254 Wheeler Street in St. Paul.
Records on file at the Minnesota State Secretary of State’s Office show that a company called “Enlightened Enterprises” [link added by Bluestem] was registered at that address on July 25, 2012 by a Shawn Towle. The first payment from senate Democrats to Enlighten Enterprise occurred on July 26, 2012.As pure coincidence would have it, a Shawn Towle is listed in both the 2012 and 2013 editions ofCapitol News Coverage Directory as an accredited member of the senate press corps, representing Checks & Balances. That Shawn Towle is also listed in the current 2014edition.
According to the Directory, Senate Rule 16.1(a) reads in part,The Sergeant at Arms may not issue credentials or day passes under this rule to political organizations. For the purposes of this rule, "political organization" means an organization owned or controlled by a registered lobbyist, a political party, or any party organization.
So we know that the media’s Shawn Towle can’t be the same one that started the similar sounding company of the senate’s research contractor.
The sarcasm doesn't advance the case, nor does the fact that Towle was no longer publishing Checks and Balances by the beginning of 2013. Glahn doesn't break down the 2012 and 2013 payments for Enlighted Enterprises, but Towle was paid $3500.00 on January 7, 2013 and $1500.00 on June 25, 2013 for "research."
While Towle received two checks totaling $5000 in 2013 from the DFL, he was no longer publishing a blog, but he didn't lose his capitol news media credentials either for being on contract with the DFL Senate or being without a publication. Perhaps he was still showing up at press conferences and the like, but the only platform upon which Towle was publishing was twitter. Did that merit continued credentials from the Senate?
Checks and Balances senate tweets: January-June 2013
Whatever research the DFL Senate was paying for in, it didn't involve using the defunct Checks and Balances to promote a message. If the ChecksNBalances twitter account was intended to tip the capitol press corps about "research," what did Towle tweet that's related to the Senate between January 7 and June 25, 2013?
Glahn alludes to a few issues that CheckNBalances/Towle tweeted, but it's cherry picking at best. Placed on reverse chronological order--with some repetitive material eliminated, here are the senate-related issues the account tweeted:
The only senate-related topic during the period is Michael Brodkorb's lawsuit. Since Brodkorb's lawsuit against the Minnesota Senate, originally filed on July 23, 2012, became Senate DFLers's problem with the recapturing of the upper chamber, it's hard to agree with Glahn's speculation that the 2013 payments were for Towle's journalistic endeavors.
What the "research" was is Senate caucus campaign director Mike Kennedy's business. Bluestem sure hopes that if he paid $5000 for that set of tweets, the rest of us get paid the same rate for such services.
Hired gun II: Key Strategies LLC and media credentials
In Hired Gun 2, Glahn writes about a second, earlier contract Towle and the DFL Senate Caucus campaign committee:
By coincidence, the Shawn Towle of @ChecksnBalances was also active during this period in 2012. Beginning March 15, 2012, Mr. Towle tweeted about the ethics complaint filed against then-state senator Geoff Michel, which he continued to report on through the end of May.
During this period, Towle would tweet about new Checks and Balances reports as well, although the URLs that accompany the tweets led to the dead domain. What other senate-related material did Towle tweet in 2012, when he received over $35,000 of the total payments? In the spring of 2012, one of his firms was paid for "strategic consulting" and from July through December, "research."
Glahn and Berg imply the DFL senate caucus campaign committee was paying him for the media he produced. What did he produce?
Checks and Balances senate blog posts and tweets: March-December 2012
In chronological order, here are senate-related tweets from the ChecksNBalances twitter account and the Checks and Balances URLs that are the ghosts of the now-defunct website.
Read our latest installment about Sen. Gerlach and Right-to-Work legislation and how tacky Lester Bagley is http://t.co/jajFWGIc— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 12, 2012
Alert: @SenateDFL@mnsrc@mnhousegop @mnhouseDFLsome is assembling list of members re:@mbrodkorb sexual allegations— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 16, 2012
List said to have 6 Rs & 6DFLers— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 16, 2012
If @mbrodkorb gets settlement could it b called a sexual bailout?— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 16, 2012
Sen Sandy Pappas is finally filing ethics violation Sen Geoff Michel this afternoon http://t.co/jajFWGIc— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 19, 2012
@geoffmichel Ethics hearing in Rm 107 of the Capitol.— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 23, 2012
Towle posts 11 additional tweets from the hearing.
Read our piece on the abject dysfunction of the Senate Republican Caucus and the potential return of a DFL Rep. http://t.co/jajFWGIc— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) March 29, 2012
April 2012 tweets
Read articles on further Senate Republican Caucus issues. Republican retribution 4 Ethics Complaint. End of Session. http://t.co/jajFWGIc— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) April 4, 2012
Sen Ethics not in need of addition testimony— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) April 17, 2012
Here r some Rep Sens @ Sen Ethics Comm what can be concluded by their presence? pic.twitter.com/OWW0N869— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) April 17, 2012
Towle tweets over 20 more times about the April 17, 2012 ethics hearing. Time marches on:
Sen Senjem Bonding we can cut, paste & patch fairly easily— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) April 30, 2012
July (Enlightening Enterprises "research" Era begins)
Breaking: Likely Major Camp Finance Violations @ 12:01am We've uncovered efforts likely to defraud MN of Thousands $$ http://t.co/jajBp6Hi— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) July 24, 2012
Complaint filed w /both Campaign Finance Board & County Attorney on email solicitation 4 contributions by B Anderson. http://t.co/jajBp6Hi— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) July 27, 2012
More attention given Brandon Anderson email controversy. The Campaign Finance Board is looking into the matter. http://t.co/jajBp6Hi— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) July 27, 2012
New articles on Camp Finance, Julie Quist, Brodkorb, and labor Unions & Republicans http://t.co/jajBp6Hi— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) July 31, 2012
Republican Senate using State Capitol for campaign activity mhttp://checksandbalances.com— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) August 14, 2012
Four more tweets on the campaigning issue then:
Sen. Tom Bakk selected as DFL Majority Leader by acclamation. #mnleg— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) November 8, 2012
Sens. Katie Sieben and Chris Eaton r the candidates 4 asst maj leader so far. #mnleg— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) November 8, 2012
@SenateDFL Maj Leader-elect Tom Bakk states current Sen Sec Cal Ludeman will be replaced.— Checks & Balances (@ChecksnBalances) November 9, 2012
There are a number of additional tweets about the Rules Committee meeting and then:
And that's it
We can only conclude that while Towle himself clearly broke the credentialing rules by taking on a political party as a client while also serving as a member of the capitol press corps--and after he no longer maintained a venue for publishing his articles, it's hard to see just what the DFL Senate Caucus was getting via Checks and Balances while it was still online, nor from the tweets Towle provided.
And while some material about campaign violations and other material shows up on Towle's stream, tweets from an account with 451 followers of committee hearings that were covered and broadcast aren't particular high value.
We only hope that the strategic consulting and research the DFL Senate Caucus received were of higher quality than tweets and now-vanished blog posts that seemed more obsessed with--and sympathetic to--the firing of Michael Brodkorb than the DFL senate campaign ever was.
Should Towle keep his credentials? The guidelines suggest that those who possess them ought publish regularly about the legislature and be free of connections with "an organization owned or controlled by a registered lobbyist, a political party, or any party organization."
Disclosure: Bluestem's editor and owner does taake on clients for unrelated projects and sponsored articles for the blog. If a post relates to an unrelated project, we disclose; if a project is sponsored (like the articles we published about rural marriage equality supporters last spring), we disclose.
And since we take contracts--even ones that are usually unrelated to our posts here--we'd never considered asking for capitol media credentials.
Photo: Shawn Towle in 2007,via Facebook.
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