Senate Republicans push new Attorney General hiring rules

A person speaks at a podium.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate want to prevent the state attorney general from using outside resources for staff in his office.

The prohibition is part of a larger state government funding bill, and it sparked a lengthy debate Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee.

The provision is rooted in the hiring by Attorney General Keith Ellison of an environmental lawyer that was paid for by a group with ties to the family foundation of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ellison told MPR News last month that allegations the hiring is somehow improper are “entirely political,” and an “illegitimate attack.”

Ellison said the arrangement is with the New York University Law School, and donors to the program have no say in the work done by his office.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, insisted that the provision would not impinge on the authority of the attorney general.

”It just means that they have to use the funds that are appropriated, not taking money from outside entities that may have conflicting interests or political purposes.” Kiffmeyer said.

But Democrats on the committee oppose the restriction. They tried unsuccessfully to remove the language from the bigger bill.

Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller spoke against the provision. Keller said the restriction is a separation of powers issue.

“The provision unfortunately undermines the bedrock constitutional principle of separations of powers.” Keller said. “The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that one branch of government cannot attempt to control the discretionary power of the attorney general in conducting litigation for the state.”

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