A state lawmaker did not act unethically while holding a position at the University of Minnesota, the results of a recent investigation found.
Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis) took a position at the university's Energy Transition Lab (ETL) in July as a policy fellow. In the role, Long was tasked with researching greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota and planning a January conference, among other duties.
A third party investigation examining Long’s position was made public Monday, after complaints were made by Republicans that Long's position raised the potential for conflicts of interest, as well as suggesting that he could be classed as a lobbyist.
Long resigned from the position on Sept. 20, after the university had decided to eliminate the position in the wake of the complaints.
"The report we received from a neutral third party completely exonerates Representative Long from all allegations of impropriety made by Representatives Swedzinski and [Kurt] Daudt,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement Monday.
In a statement Monday, Long said: "It was unfortunate that the House GOP chose to play politics with research on climate change solutions.
"I’m committed to achieving a clean energy future for Minnesota, and a disproved partisan attack won’t slow me down.”
So what was the issue?
Long was identified for the position by former Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), who currently works for the university, and met with Anderson and ETL project manager Barb Jacobs in March to discuss the position. Long also indicated what he was seeking potential employment after the end of the legislative session.
Anderson initially told Long the fellowship would comprise of two positions, with Long representing a progressive view point. The bipartisan program would also include a conservative voice, Anderson said.
The position was eventually modified to include only one fellow. Anderson and Jacobs reportedly modified the job description to meet Long’s preferences.
A statement from University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said that asking a candidate to assist in creating a job description is not “common practice” but that writing a description with a candidate in mind is not against policy.
According to Anderson, Long was her “preferred” candidate at the time, but had not been formally chosen. Long was informed he would need to apply for the position like any other candidate.
However, communications obtained by House Republicans and made public in September show internal ETL budget correspondence from March. In those communications, Jacobs indicated that funding for the position had been secured and that Long had been selected.
Anderson also submitted a request for funding for the position from the Bloomberg Foundation via the McKnight Foundation, which identified Long as the proposed fellow, the report states.
“We got [money] from [McKnight] to… hire MN Jamie Long…” Jacobs wrote in an email.
The job listing for the position was not posted until months later, on June 17. Long applied and was offered the position on July 12 after Anderson had interviewed two other candidates.
Following the release of the communications, House Republicans called on Speaker Hortman to investigate Long’s position and potential conflicts of interest.
In a letter to Hortman, Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) raised questions over whether the position qualified Long as a lobbyist, or if he was given special treatment because of his status as a legislator, according to a Sep. 12 statement from Swedzinski’s office.
But the investigation found no evidence that indicated Long was aware he had been identified in correspondence or the request for funding ahead of applying for the role.
The report also indicates that the only House votes Long had taken relating to the work of ETL was on a higher education omnibus bill and an energy policy omnibus bill. The higher education bill did not include funding for ETL, and the policies within the energy bill did not directly impact ETL’s work.
Long also took these votes before taking the position at ETL, the report notes. The only contact Long had with a legislator in the position was during a tour of a university lab, where Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) was also present. The report states that there is no evidence to indicate Long took action with Dibble to influence legislation.