On Feb. 9, 2022, the Minnesota Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee heard testimony from Annette Meeks, the CEO of the Minnesota Freedom Foundation. Annette highlighted how little Minnesotans know about two Bloomberg-funded “special assistant” attorneys general working in the Minnesota AG’s office. As Annette testified, this is an unheard of lack of transparency from our state’s chief law enforcement officer. In fact, it’s quite alarming. Annette’s remarks are below.
“A cornerstone of our work is government transparency which is why I’m with you today,” she told Senators.
THANK YOU, CHAIR KIFFMEYER for the opportunity to speak on behalf of our strong support for Senate File 2818 – a bill that would require that all legal services of the Office of Attorney General shall be performed by employees of that office except in special coordination with the federal government or another Minnesota government entity as provided by law.
My name is Annette Meeks and I’m the CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. We are a non-profit research idea that focuses on highlighting market-based solutions to some of the most difficult issues facing our state. A cornerstone of our work is government transparency which is why I’m with you today.
Several years ago, a trend began in private philanthropy where donors would fund specific projects that would, in turn, hire a staff member to be placed in a state or local government job. Often these “employees” are paid directly by the non-profit entity that received the tax-deductible gift from the wealthy donor.
We first became aware of this process when the Rockefeller Foundation founded its Resilient Cities program in 2013 and committed $164 million towards hiring “chief resilience officers” in 100 cities around the globe. Minneapolis received a grant of $129,508 from the foundation in 2017 to fund the city’s first CRO. That position was filed by former DFL state Representative Kate Knuth who left that position after seven months on the job.
In 2017, according to IRS filings, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private foundation – the Bloomberg Family Foundation – donated $5.6 million to develop New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. Since that time, NYC has hired and paid 17 attorneys and placed them in 11 states’ attorney general offices including 2 here in Minnesota.
Since receiving these two Bloomberg-funded special attorney generals in our state’s Attorney General’s office in 2019, we know very little about what work these special assistants do since they are categorized as “fellows”.
Imagine, if you will – that several years from now, a Republican is elected as Minnesota’s attorney general. That newly minted chief law enforcement officer of our state receives an email from the National Right to Life Foundation or the National Rifle Association Educational Foundation asking if the AG would like to receive two fulltime employees, paid for by that non-profit organization who received a multi-million-dollar gift from a conservative donor.
The cries of outrage from the news media, the legislature –and from my organization — would be deafening, as well it should be.
Private philanthropy should not be anonymously supporting state government employees – our state government isn’t for sale or rent.