ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt has been sued by debt collectors three times in the past year over thousands of dollars in credit card charges, according to court records.
Minnesota Public Radio News reported that one of cases against the Crown Republican -- surrounding more than $9,000 in credit card debt -- was recently settled as a court hearing scheduled for Monday approached. Daudt and his attorney had tried to have the case dismissed on a technicality, arguing it wasn't valid because court papers were delivered to his mother's house, on which he owns the mortgage.
But two other cases, judgments that Daudt would pay a combined $3,800, were later vacated at the request of the law firm representing the bank -- a firm with a powerful lobbying presence at the Capitol. With little explanation, the law firm Messerli and Kramer asked the judge in the cases to vacate the judgments against Daudt last spring.
After the judge agreed to wipe away the payments, Messerli and Kramer asked that the pair of cases against the speaker be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the firm wouldn't be allowed to pursue further legal action and agreed to pay for its own court costs. Messerli and Kramer is a major lobbying firm at the Capitol, representing the Minnesota Twins, Best Buy and a push for a major league soccer stadium in St. Paul.
The handling of those cases raises the specter of a powerful lawmaker receiving preferential treatment. Of the 650 debt collection cases reviewed by MPR News through the first half of 2015, only four cases were vacated. Two were Daudt's, and the other two involved defendants who had filed for bankruptcy.
Daudt canceled a planned interview with MPR News, later issuing a statement acknowledging his financial troubles.
"Like many Minnesotans who struggled as a result of the recession, I lost my job and faced credit card debt," Daudt said. "This issue is now resolved and there is no outstanding debt. When I stand up for middle-class families who are feeling squeezed, it is not a talking point, it is real life."
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, the chamber's top Democrat, said Daudt should answer questions about the way the cases were handled.
"It's in the public's interest that he disclose the nature of the settlement he reached on his debt with a law firm with significant lobbying ties at the Capitol," Thissen said in a statement. He also said Daudt should say who paid his legal costs.
"Especially troubling is the hypocrisy that Speaker Daudt is showing workers and families on the Iron Range," Thissen said. "In Speaker Daudt's statements about the lawsuits against him he asks for empathy from others because he knows what it's like to walk in the shoes of someone who has fallen on hard times. But those miners and their families can't cut special deals."
A former car salesman, Daudt's sole income comes from the Capitol, where he makes $43,596 a year -- more than most Minnesota lawmakers because of his top position. He's supplemented that pay with per diem offered to legislators. Daudt collected nearly $13,400 in per diem payments last year, the most among all 201 legislators, including state senators who are paid at a higher daily rate.
It's unclear who paid for Daudt's legal fees. But the House Republicans' campaign arm, the House Republican Campaign Committee, paid attorney Reid LeBeau nearly $21,000 last year. LeBeau has regularly worked for the campaign committee on election matters.
LeBeau declined to comment to MPR News.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org
Complete statement from House DFL Leader Paul Thissen
“There remain many unanswered questions about this troubling story. The only person who can clear things up is Speaker Daudt. It’s in the public’s interest that he disclose the nature of the settlement he reached on his debt with a law firm with significant lobbying ties at the Capitol. He should clarify who owns and lives at the properties where taxes were delinquent. And he should make it clear who paid for representing the Speaker in his personal financial matter. The sooner that is disclosed, the better.
Especially troubling is the hypocrisy that Speaker Daudt is showing workers and families on the Iron Range. In Speaker Daudt’s statements about the lawsuits against him he asks for empathy from others because he knows what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone who has fallen on hard times. But those miners and their families can’t cut special deals. Speaker Daudt should extend that same empathy to the thousands of workers and families on the Iron Range and stop holding hostage the relief those families so desperately need in order to get tax cuts for special interests at the State Capitol.”