MN GOP-DFL Leadership Discussing Special Session During Trip to Caribbean

Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Photo: Marriott.com

St. Paul, Minnesota – While Minnesotans worry about skyrocketing MnSure insurance premiums and shiver while slogging through the nose-hair freezing cold during the latest invasion of the Polar Vortex, some Minnesota legislative leaders are attending a “Symposium” in the Caribbean.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, MPR reported that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton had given legislative lawmakers a deadline of Thursday, Dec. 15, to finish the negotiations on the agenda for the planned Dec. 20, 2016 special session.  The legislative leaders will have to work their negotiations for the billion dollar public works bill, health insurance premium relief and tax cut plan between the “training sessions” while at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) “Special Symposium for Legislative Leaders 2016” held in the US Virgin Islands this week.  

Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) are all together, though not in St. Paul – the Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader have escaped the cold for the sun warmed beaches of the US Virgin Islands.

bakk-daudt-peppin-bios-ncsl

The Symposium is being held beginning today, Wed. Dec. 14 through Dec. 16 at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef in St. Thomas.  Attendees will be treated to “conversations with top thinkers in economics, policy and leadership development.”  The NCSL invitation page describes the symposium as the following:

“In the typical busy legislative session, there is often not enough time to reflect on leadership and all that the job of legislative leader entails. We are inviting you to this exclusive meeting to do just that. Spend three days with leaders like yourself from legislatures across the country, people with the same concerns, the same challenges and the same desire to be effective and successful.

In addition to the substantive program that you have come to expect at the NCSL Leaders meetings, you can enjoy all that the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands have to offer. Please note that this invitation is only for Senate presidents, Senate presidents pro tem, speakers of the House, speakers pro tem, and majority and minority leaders and is not transferable. The symposium is open to legislative leaders who will be serving in 2017. Space is available first come, first served.”

The symposium included free registration and three “complimentary nights at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef” (Dec. 13-15) as well as most meals while at the symposium.  Leaders were invited to bring along a guest, for a cost of $200 (covering “the costs associated with the social events on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and any meals provided during the conference, at which guests are welcome.”).

Also attending the symposium are NCSL Foundation Sponsors (aka “Lobbyists”) – the NCSL Foundation is where some of the NCSL’s funding comes from.  According to the Sponsor Brochure, companies who sponsor the NCSL Foundation are given the extra benefits of building relationships with policymakers:

Through the Foundation, you can promote your positions, offer expertise and add your voice to critical discussions on the issues that matter to you.  Position your organization in front of legislators from across the country. No other organization offers you so many opportunities to meet face-to-face with policymakers throughout the year, including NCSL’s Legislative Summit— the largest annual gathering of state legislators in the nation.  Gain access to the nation’s most comprehensive and up-to-date state policy resources. Foundation sponsors are able to gather valuable information and perspective from NCSL’s website and award-winning magazine.  Save time and maximize your impact with the help of our staff. The Foundation team is your liaison to NCSL and can help you navigate the organization with ease.

The sponsors (lobbyists) attending the Symposium include Jeff Woodhouse – PhRMA, Kate Kulesher Jareck – Novartis, Buck Sherman – Amgen, Lyndon “LJ” Godfrey – AT&T and Jean Cantrell – Philips.

While the NCSL funding is derived in part by its foundation, other funding comes from taxpayers.  According to a 2012 Breitbart article:

NCSL’s main stream of revenue comes from appropriations from state taxpayers. Each state is “accessed” dues based on a formula correlated generally with the size of the state. This stream from state taxpayers provides NCSL with around $20 million a year. It also collects a significant amount of revenue from federal grants. It has created a non-profit foundation, where labor unions, corporations and foundations can become ‘sponsors.’”  

Research on how much Minnesota taxpayers pay for the legislators’ membership to the NCSL revealed little; however, found during the search was a spreadsheet produced by the South Dakota legislature which showed exactly how much the state spent on various memberships to organizations for the past several years.  According to that spreadsheet, South Dakota taxpayers paid more than $120,000 in 2016 for their legislators’ membership to NCSL.

Additionally, Blois Olson of FluenceMedia, reports on Twitter that all mention of Minnesota legislators attending the Symposium has been scrubbed from the NCSL website:

How much “work” are Minnesota legislative leaders doing on the pressing issues regarding the potential upcoming Special Session while in the Virgin Islands?  Are Minnesota taxpayers also on the hook for the airfare (average cost per ticket $800 – Minneapolis to St. Thomas in December) as well?  Why has the legislators’ information been scrubbed from the NCSL website?

Alpha News contacted the offices of Bakk, Daudt and Peppin but had received no responses at the time of publishing this article.