Investigators: Minn. Senate Republicans campaigning at Capitol? - KMSP-TV

Investigators: Are Minn. Senate Republicans campaigning at Capitol?

Posted: Updated:
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Room 208, which is tucked just off the Senate floor, used to house the office the former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch prior to her ethics scandal -- and undercover cameras show that a new scandal may be emerging there.

FOX 9's undercover footage found a parade of people, many of whom are Senate staffers, walking out with brown bags after lunch was served following an e-mail sent to friends of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The invite asked volunteers to stop by Room 208 for a campaign literature drop for Sens. Ted Lillie and Ted Daley, and it even told staffers that they could take lunch at their desk for the rest of the week if they don't have enough comp or vacation time.

The e-mail was sent by caucus staffer Maureen Watson, former legislative assistant to Koch and current assistant to Senate Majority Leader David Senjem. She works in Room 208, and acknowledged that she made lunch -- but she insisted they were "not organizing campaign activities" there.

Others aren't so convinced. Shawn Towle runs a political website, and he told FOX 9 News he believes that the Senate Republican Caucus is essentially staging campaign activity out of a Capitol office -- providing a sack lunch and political assignments.

When Towle set up his own camera on the door to Room 208, he was quickly confronted by Senate Chief of Staff Kevin Matzek.

State ethics laws are clear that an employee must not use state time, supplies, or state-owned property and equipment for private interests -- including campaigning.

What makes it even more unusual is that it is unnecessary. The Senate Republican Caucus has an office on the ninth floor of the Kelly Inn that bears a sign identifying it as the campaign headquarters -- but on the day of the primary, only one person was inside.

Meanwhile at the Capitol, an undercover FOX 9 producer was going inside Room 208 -- but staffers already knew something was up. So, instead of getting an interview from a member of the Senate Republican Caucus, FOX 9 News got a statement that read:

"At no time is any staffer allowed to conduct campaign activities while at the Capitol; however, staffers are allowed to use lunch hour and vacation time as they choose, including campaign activities away from the Capitol."

That's true, but the proximity to the Capitol is what's come under question -- especially since the building is supposed to be the people's house, not a campaign headquarters.

The full text of the e-mail sent to Senate staffers can be found below:

From: Maureen Watson [Email Redacted]
Date:
August 9, 2012 11:41:43 AM CDT
To:
[Sent to Emails Redacted]
Subject: THANK YOU!!

SRC'ers,

Wanted to thank all of you who were able to help out this week with our lunch hour lit dropping and phoning! We had over 40 people out over the three days - so super turn out. Senator Lillie and Senator Daley have both emailed me thanking you for volunteering. It really let's [sic] them know we are in this together - and is the incentive they need to hit the streets and door-knock - again!

We have a similar plan in store for next week - going out lit dropping on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Please let me know when you would like to join us. If you are new to our Caucus and to our Lunch Hour Lit Drops - please consider joining us. It really helps out our Caucus and it is fun. If you have someone to pair up with great - if not, just show up in 208 about 10:45/11 - and you can join one of the groups. It is a great way to get to know your co-workers.

Of course - as always, lunches will be ready for you in Room 208 starting at 10:45.

Also - if you don't have a lot or any comp time or vacation - consider going out one day a week. If you take your lunch and breaks at your desk the rest of the week - you should be able to get about 2 hours for a lit drop on one day without losing any hours.

Again - thanks for your efforts this week - and here's to a successful next week!

Maureen

P.S. I know that there are several of you from our staff out on Salary Savings - doing the Lord's work on campaigns near and far - I just don't want to take you off the email list since you are still a part of our family! We miss you!

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