Lori Swanson has rejected claims by a news organization that says she pressured government employees to assist with her political campaigns while working as Minnesota's Attorney General.
The Monday piece by the The Intercept, which says it provides "adversarial journalism," also claims Swanson gave promotions and pay raises to deputies who supported her political campaigns, including via donations.
It featured comments from alleged previous employees of Swanson's, all but one of whom was interviewed anonymously. The one named, Linda McEwan, left the AG office in 2009, and recently opened up about her time under Swanson in a MinnPost article.
On Tuesday, Swanson's gubernatorial campaign went on the offensive, denouncing The Intercept's claims as "politically-motivated," both because of McEwan's own alleged political affiliations and because of a supposed grudge harbored against Swanson by friends of the owner at First Look Media, The Intercept's parent company.
"This is nothing but a political attempt to settle scores," the campaign said, adding the following statement:
"There is no political activity undertaken by any member of the attorney general's office while 'on the clock' for the government, period. Employees of the attorney general's office are paid and promoted based solely on their merit and work responsibilities, period."
"The only person named in the article who makes allegations to the contrary states that she was terminated by the office in 2009 – 10 years ago – and has given $3,000 to Erin Murphy's gubernatorial campaign and is one of Murphy's top supporters.
As we get closer to the primary, we anticipate a continued onslaught of politically motivated attacks. The billionaire who runs First Look Media has direct ties to the billionaire who runs two businesses, Accretive Health and the National Arbitration Forum, that Attorney General Swanson sued and from which she recovered millions of dollars for the people of Minnesota."
The campaign sent extensive information to BMTN detailing the apparent links between one of the owners of First Look Media – Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar – and executives involved in the 2 companies that had run-ins with Swanson during her time as Minnesota's AG.
These would be J. Michael Cline, of Accretive Health, and Edgar Bronfman, of the National Arbitration Forum, of which Cline is also a member.
Accretive Health was banned from doing business in Minnesota for two to six years in 2012 after a lawsuit from Swanson alleging it had been harassing patients for money, while the NAF was accused by Swanson's office in 2009 of running a rigged arbitration system.
The Swanson campaign also sent BMTN a series of articles critiquing the quality of journalism carried out by The Intercept, whose founders include Edward Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald, including this piece by Politico reporter Ken Silverstein called, "Where journalism goes to die."
Judging by the timestamps on some of the documents sent to BMTN, the Swanson campaign was collating the anti-Intercept articles on Sunday, before the piece about her went live.
What did The Intercept allege?
The Intercept reported that it had identified six of seven staffers who between them made 46 contributions to Swanson's political campaigns since 2013.
Lawyers and other staffers interviewed claimed they felt pressured to carry out tasks for Swanson's campaign, as well as schedule campaign events and forego "basic legal work to instead correspond with constituents."
One former staff member allegedly told the news site: "If you wanted to be someone who went from being a low-level analyst answering phones to someone with an office and a secretary, you had to participate [in campaign events]."
The piece points out that it's not illegal for politicians to invite their employees to take part in their campaign, but you aren't allowed to compel them.
Swanson's AG office spokesman Benjamin Wogsland told the news outlet that anyone who volunteers for her political campaign must do so on their own time, and that their participation is not used to determine raises or promotions.
You can read the full piece here.
The Intercept is not the first news agency to report on such happenings at the AG's office under Swanson's tenure.
Earlier this year, MinnPost ran an article based on interviews with four attorneys with the AG's office who, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they felt pressured to carry out what they claim were unethical tasks.
The four attorneys corroborated comments made by assistant attorney general Amy Lawler, who was suspended from her role after going public with complaints about how the AG's office was being run.
"Lawler has recently become the public voice of a group of present and former AAG's who are rebelling against what they describe as an atmosphere of intimidation," MinnPost wrote. "In general, they describe an office driven to advance the political prospects of Swanson, as they were by [former AG Mike] Hatch."
BMTN has reached out to First Look Media for a response to the Swanson campaign's claims about its ownership. We have also reached out to Linda McEwan.