- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A state legislator whose children received college scholarships from the education foundation he runs said he had no role in choosing the scholarship recipients.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, is executive director of the BEST Foundation, a nonprofit that provides scholarships for students graduating from Simley High School.

The Star Tribune reported (https://strib.mn/23jtPMu ) Friday that Atkins’ three children all got scholarships from the nonprofit. The most recent was his daughter, a University of Minnesota freshman, getting a $6,000 scholarship sponsored by the industrial gas company Praxair, the newspaper reported. The Star Tribune also said it’s the largest among 124 scholarships the foundation has awarded.

Foundation board chairwoman Jessica Clifton said Atkins had no role in awarding the scholarships and said the foundation has a process to make the selection process anonymous. Students are given a number to shield their identities.

Atkins said he has offered to withdraw his children from scholarship consideration but the foundation’s board voted against it.

Atkins, an attorney, was previously scrutinized because some companies from whom he has raised money for scholarships also have business before the Legislature. Atkins chaired the Commerce Committee when the DFL controlled the House in 2014.

“It does not influence how I vote,” Atkins told the newspaper.

Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said Atkins’ arrangement is troubling.

“Anyone in a position where benefits are accruing back to family members is going to be under suspicion,” Downey said. “But couple that with serving in the Legislature and it raises more questions,” he said.


Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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