ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Just days before the Minnesota primary, there was a fiery debate between DFL candidates running for governor. Among the hot topics, Attorney General Lori Swanson defended accusations of misconduct after a former staffer claimed Swanson pressured employees in her office to do political work.
Those allegations made for the very first question for Attorney General Swanson, which kicked off Friday morning’s DFL gubernatorial debate on Minnesota Public Radio. The moderator asked if there was any truth that Swanson politicized her office by encouraging employees to do campaign work and then promoted and gave pay raises to those willing to help advance her career.
The potentially explosive allegations first were reported this week in the Intercept, an online news source priding itself on “adversarial journalism.”
“Well, first of all, The Intercept is a widely discredited blog,” Swanson said.
Swanson blasted the source, explaining that the site is owned by a billionaire who is an investment partner of another billionaire who she has “taken down” as attorney general to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Swanson said she is not worried the article will impact people’s decisions at the polls.
“I think people know me, they know my record,” said Swanson. “I’ve been attorney general 12 years, we’ve got a proven record of getting results in terms of the public, in terms of this hitting five days before an election. I think it’s dirty pool; I do think it’s payback.”
Earlier this week, Fox 9 spoke to a veteran of the attorney general's office who worked under Mike Hatch and then Deputy A.G. Swanson years ago.
“You have to take seriously the concerns of her record as a leader,” said Prentiss Cox, a former staffer.
Cox told Fox 9 about the blurring of the public’s legal affairs with the pressure of the next campaign cycle.
“You can’t keep asking people who are public employees, but not civil service, no civil service protection - repeatedly ask them to come to after-hours fundraising when they’ve said, no,” said Cox. “It is troubling to me. It’s not how you run government.”
“In the Attorney General’s office we have rules and we have policies that we follow,” Swanson said. “One of those rules is nobody engages in political activity on the clock for the State of Minnesota. That policy applies to anybody in the office.”
Meanwhile, Swanson’s opponents in the party’s race for governor are not 100 percent sold on the attorney general’s explanation.
“I think there are some very serious allegations there,” said Erin Murphy, a candidate for governor. “And I am frustrated by AG Swanson’s not just her effort to deflect on this issue, but really in both this case also Congressman Rick Nolan, blaming someone else rather than taking responsibility in that office. That’s a problem.”
“I think it’s a concern if that’s happening,” said Tim Walz, a candidate for governor. “I have not passed judgment yet, but I am just a little deeply concerned on the response to it, right away to go into this mode, that in my opinion, is incredibly dangerous.”
Swanson’s camp, including the Attorney General’s Office, has spent the day working to discredit the former staffer who spoke out. They point out the man has admitted he was fired about four years ago when faced with a felony charge for insurance fraud.