- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota Senate leaders pushed Monday for an outside look into whether a Democrat’s new job as the head of an Iron Range lobbying group conflicts with his role as a lawmaker.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, was hired last week as executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, an organization funded in part by public money that lobbies for those interests at the Capitol. His hiring, first reported by the Mesabi Daily News, immediately raised questions about whether the two roles would clash.

Senate Republicans called the two jobs a blatant conflict of interest, and raised the prospect of filing an ethics complaint against Tomassoni if he goes ahead with both jobs. Senate DFL leadership has urged Tomassoni to ask the state’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board for an advisory opinion.

No such request had been filed as of Monday afternoon, board Director Gary Goldsmith said.

Tomassoni said Monday his new job makes it no different than “a farmer voting on farm issues or a lawyer voting on court issues,” but he outlined several steps he’ll take to reduce concern.

His role will be administrative, he said, so he won’t be lobbying his fellow lawmakers; the group will hire an independent lobbyist if it feels it needs to. He also promised to recuse himself from any votes where the association stands to benefit.

Tomassoni’s work won’t start until after the legislative session ends in late May, and he’ll take an unpaid leave of absence during every session.

The reduced schedule will bring his pay to about $45,000, he said. His predecessor was paid $80,000 in 2012, according to the group’s most recent nonprofit financial filings.

“I think this is all above board here,” Tomassoni said. “We all have certain little conflicts here.”

If Tomassoni goes ahead with both jobs, Senate Minority Leader David Hann said there’s “a very strong likelihood” the GOP will file an ethics complaint against him.

“Do we really have to say out loud that it’s not a good idea to be a lobbyist and a senator at the same time? He represents these cities in the Legislature,” Hann said. “Are they just asking for an ethics complaint?”

But two GOP House members quickly came to Tomassoni’s defense.

“In all our interactions with Senator Tomassoni, he has upheld the highest standards of ethics and integrity. We disagree with those who have been critical of the Senator’s new employment,” Reps. Pat Garofalo and Rod Hamilton said in a joint statement.

Tomassoni said he “wouldn’t be doing this” if he hadn’t determined it is legal.

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