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St. Paul, Minn. — Pawlenty has been under fire for his ties to New Access Communications, a company that last year settled charges of deceptive business practices in three states for $222,000. In addition, the governor revealed this week that while on the campaign trail he accepted $4,500 per month from a related pay-phone company for consulting work. But Pawlenty has been unable or unwilling to detail how much actual work he did to earn that fee. The governor says he treats the controversy seriously, but he says ultimately Minnesotans will conclude he's done nothing improper.
"I think when people look at the facts and try to thoroughly find out what happened or didn't happen, it's going to turn out to be nothing of concern in terms of my role as governor," he said.
Pawlenty says, for instance, while he was a board member for New Access's parent company, the regulatory problems that plagued the subsidiary happened too far down the chain-of-command for him to be aware of them. And Pawlenty says the consulting work done for pay-phone company Access Anywhere was channeled through a company he created called Bamco.
The DFLers certainly will try to spin this into... what I think has become a national Democratic line, about Republicans generally benefiting themselves, benefiting each other, benefiting wealthy people over ordinary Americans. It doesn't appear that that necessarily has a lot of of political traction.
Pawlenty says Bamco was listed on his economic disclosure form even if the payments from Access Anywhere were not. He's offered to amend the forms to erase any lingering confusion. But he maintains he never violated the law.
State Independence Party Chair Jack Uldrich says that might technically be true. "He's using his lawyering skills. Yes, legally, he is correct, but there's a difference between what's legal and what's right and Tim Pawlenty doesn't understand that. And this is the second time he's shown that to be the case."
Uldrich and the Independence Party filed a complaint against the Pawlenty campaign last fall alleging campaign officials illegally colluded with state Republican Party members to circumvent campaign finance laws.
The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board agreed and fined the campaign $100,000. Uldrich says Pawlenty's role as a former legislator suggests he should understand the spirit and the letter of the law. He also says that same mastery allows Pawlenty to violate the one while sticking to the other.
Gustavus Adolphus political science professor Chris Gilbert says if these scandals continue to pop up, they'll eventually weigh heavily on the administration. But so far, he says, it's not clear the public is particularly upset.
"The DFLers, I think, certainly will try to spin this into a more general, what I think has become a national Democratic line, about Republicans generally benefiting themselves, benefiting each other, benefiting wealthy people over ordinary Americans. It doesn't appear that that necessarily has a lot of of political traction," he said.
DFLers are, in fact, doing exactly that. State chair Mike Erlandson says Minnesotans should be very concerned by recent headlines.
"Minnesotans should pay attention and they should look at the players involved and they should not do what unfortunately happens all too often, which is sort of lumping all politicians together. Because this is not all politicians. This is the governor of the state of Minnesota," Erlandson said.
The governor's supporters, however, say the whiff of scandal should soon blow past. They argue there's no evidence that state laws were broken. And to the extent the telecom companies ran afoul of utility regulations, they've been penalized and they've corrected the problems.
Even some official voices say the list of charges has been blown out of proportion. Ken Broin, a lay member of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Office, says recent reports that Pawlenty failed to file notice with the board of his outside legal consulting overstated the importance of the matter.
"It's not serious in any way. It doesn't affect the constituents of Minnesota, the individuals, or the Bar Association itself," said Broin.
Broin says the filings are commonly overlooked. And he doubted whether the matter warranted even a private admonition for the governor.