DFL Lawmaker Calls It Quits After Questions Raised Over Conduct
Saint Paul – Minnesota jobs Coalition Executive Director John Rouleau released the following statement after Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2016. Rep. Atkins has faced a barrage of negative headlines over his controversial role with a non-profit foundation that he runs.
“It’s no coincidence that Rep. Atkins decided to call it quits just days after the media raised more questions about his controversial role with a local non-profit,” said Rouleau. “Atkins may not be running for re-election, but Minnesotans still deserve answers about his role where he earned over $850 an hour to raise money from lobbyists and corporations he was tasked with regulating.”
Rouleau asked Rep. Atkins to stop dodging the following questions:
- Does Rep. Atkins believe his average hourly compensation of over $850 is appropriate?
- Does Rep. Atkins believe he was entitled to the more than $200,000 in public benefits as a school district employee to which he otherwise would not have been able to receive for work performed on behalf of a private foundation?
- Why did the foundation stop reporting compensation to Rep. Atkins while continuing to list other employees and board member’s compensation?
Death By A Thousand Cuts – The Controversy That Brought Down Joe Atkins:
MPR: Corporate Contributions & Role on Commerce Committee Raise Questions Over Conflict Of Interest. “In 2002, he won a seat in the Minnesota House, where he rose to chair the House Commerce Committee, which writes laws important to many of the big firms that have donated tens of thousands of dollars to IGH BEST. Although he’s no longer chair, Atkins remains the Commerce panel’s top Democrat as he continues as IGH BEST’s executive director. He says the job initially paid $20,000 and now pays $25,000 annually. That’s led to questions about whether his role as corporate regulator is in conflict with his efforts to raise foundation cash from those corporations.” (Tom Scheck, “Critic: Rep. Atkins’ corporate ties at odds with regulatory role,” Minnesota Public Radio, Sept. 24, 2015)
Consumer Advocate Tells MPR: “This Is Essentially Influence Peddling.” “One critic, however, says it’s no coincidence that big corporations are making donations to a small nonprofit. ‘It’s a means of trying to curry favor with the lawmaker,’ said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group. Holman says it’s not illegal for businesses to give to IGH BEST or for Atkins to raise money for it. He said the practice of what he calls the ‘relationship market’ is fairly common in state legislatures and in Congress. ‘From the business perspective, this is essentially influence peddling,’ Holman said. ‘This is a way to make sure that the lawmaker knows who you are and the lawmaker views you favorably.’” (Tom Scheck, “Critic: Rep. Atkins’ corporate ties at odds with regulatory role,” Minnesota Public Radio, Sept. 24, 2015)
Pioneer Press: State Asked to Investigate Atkins’s Unusual Compensate Arrangement Involving Foundation And School District. “The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican supporting campaign organization, is asking the state to investigate Inver Grove Heights Rep. Joe Atkins’ compensation through a school district. Atkins, a DFL House member and Inver Grove Heights BEST Foundation’s director, receives his salary and benefits for the foundation job through the Inver Grove Heights school district, Independent School District 199. ‘In light of this highly unusual financial arrangement over at least 14 years, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition has called for a full and immediate investigation into Rep. Atkins’ employment and compensation arrangement,’ Minnesota Jobs Coalition President Kevin Magnuson said. Atkins said he has no worries about the request for the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association to investigate the compensation arrangement.” (Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, “Jobs Coalition questions Rep. Atkins’ salary arrangement,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 14, 2015)
Star Tribune: “PERA to Investigate Pension Benefits for Rep. Joe Atkins.” “The Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota (PERA) will investigate the public pension benefits earned by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, for his work with a private foundation. … ‘To remain tax-qualified as a government plan, we have to ensure that the people who are our members are employees of a government entity – that is one of our requirements,’ said Julie Leppink, who serves as the legal director for both PERA and the Minnesota State Retirement System. Leppink said the first step of the investigation will be to ask the school district to explain the employment relationship between Atkins and the school district. ‘It raises questions when you see the school district has been reimbursed,’ added Leppink.” (Michael Brodkorb, “PERA to investigate pension benefits for Rep. Joe Atkins,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 16, 2015)
Star Tribune: PERA Investigation Determines Atkins Wrongly Received Benefits. “Rep. Joe Atkins’, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, work with a private foundation does not allow him to receive public pension benefits from the Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota (PERA), according to an investigation completed by PERA. … Julie Leppink, the legal director for both PERA and the Minnesota State Retirement System, said PERA determined ‘there was not an employment relationship between Rep. Atkins and the school district that made him eligible for PERA membership.’ Leppink said PERA sent a letter to both Atkins and ISD 199 informing them of PERA’s decision. Atkins will receive a refund check for his contributions to PERA since 2001, said Leppink.” (Michael Brodkorb, “Investigation finds Rep. Atkins not eligible for PERA pension benefits,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 5, 2016)
Star Tribune Investigation Finds Atkins’s Children Received Scholarships From Foundation Ran By Atkins. “State Rep. Joe Atkins is drawing fresh political criticism after revelations that his three children all received college scholarships from the nonprofit education foundation he runs. The Inver Grove Heights DFLer, who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the BEST Foundation from companies with business before the Legislature, said he has no role in selecting scholarship winners and has no reservations about helping local students get to college.” (J. Patrick Coolican, “Rep. Joe Atkins’ 3 children received scholarships from nonprofit scholarship foundation he runs,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 22, 2016)
The Star Tribune Questions Whether Or Not Atkins’s Daughter Qualified for the Scholarship Given By Her Father’s Foundation. “Most recently,Atkins’ daughter, currently a first-year student at the University of Minnesota, received the $6,000 Praxair Scholarship, sponsored by the industrial gas company and the largest among 124 scholarships awarded by the foundation. Atkins serves as executive director of the foundation, which formed to provide scholarships for students graduating from Simley High School. … The Praxair scholarship stipulates that a student should be planning to major in agriculture, biology, civil engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, environmental engineering or environmental sciences. Atkins’ daughter is at the Carlson School of Business and planning to major in finance or accounting.” (J. Patrick Coolican, “Rep. Joe Atkins’ 3 children received scholarships from nonprofit scholarship foundation he runs,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 22, 2016)