Posted at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2012
by Brett Neely
Filed under: U.S. Senate
WASHINGTON - After staying quiet on the controversy surrounding bills in Congress that would tighten penalties on website illegally distributing copyrighted material, DFL Sen. Al Franken defended his support for the measures in a letter to supporters sent Friday night.
"If we don't protect our intellectual property, international criminals - as well as legitimate businesses like payment processors and ad networks - will continue to profit dishonestly from the work these Americans are doing every day," wrote Franken. "And that puts these millions of jobs at serious risk."
After widespread protests on the internet, including the blackout of prominent sites such as Wikipedia, Congressional support for the House and Senate bills, known as PIPA in the Senate and SOPA in the House, ebbed and on Friday leaders in both chambers pulled the bills from further consideration for now.
Franken has championed policies favored by the tech community such as a net neutrality and he opposed the now-shelved merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. But he angered many who supported his past policy stances by siding with the entertainment industry in the internet piracy debate. One liberal blogger told MPR News Friday that Franken's support for the bills could hurt his support with grassroots activists when he faces reelection in 2014.
The former actor and comedian's campaign committee has received extensive financial support from the entertainment industry.
Franken backed the decision to postpone consideration of the bills for now.
"[I]f holding off on this legislation gives us an opportunity to take a step back and try to bring everybody back to the table, I think it's the right thing to do," wrote Franken.
You can read the entirety of Franken's statement here.
WASHINGTON - DFL Rep. Tim Walz's congressional campaign raised $210,000 in the last quarter of 2011 and collected just over a million dollars for the entire year. The 1st District congressman's campaign says he has $617,000 cash in the bank.
While official fundraising numbers aren't due to the Federal Election Commission until Jan. 31, some campaigns release their numbers early to demonstrate to supporters, donors and rivals the strength of their fundraising.
Walz was first elected to in Congress in 2006 after defeating Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee views Walz as a "front line" candidate who gets additional financial and staff support from the national party to defend his seat.
State Sen. Mike Parry, R- Waseca, and former Republican state Rep. Allen Quist are seeking the GOP nomination to run against Walz.
Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin has filed a complaint with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board against Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, for failing to disclose money he received from the state Republican Party.
MPR News reported last week that the Republican Party paid Thompson $70,000 over the last two years. Martin said Thompson should have disclosed the income, which is required by law. He also said he finds it questionable that the Republican Party paid Thompson while he was running for office.
"I don't think political parties should be putting candidates for office on their payroll," Martin said. "I don't know what the illegalities of that are but clearly I think there are some ethical questions that need to be answered there."
The Republican Party of Minnesota started paying Thompson before he announced he was running for the Senate.
Thompson said today he was reviewing the complaint, but told MPR News last week that he was paid to do media consulting and write opinion pieces for the party. He said he did not view it as a conflict of interest.
Update: Thompson released this statement:
"On Monday, January 23, 2012 Chairman Ken Martin filed a complaint against me with the Campaign finance and Public Disclosure Board, alleging failure to properly disclose income earned from The Republican Party of Minnesota.
"I started work as an independent contractor on October 1, 2009. Of course the fees paid to me were fully disclosed by the Party as required by law, and therefore were public knowledge. However, independent contractor income is not to be disclosed by candidates. The form specifically states, 'do not include payments for services as an independent contractor, social security payments, unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, pension benefits, income from rental property, or insurance benefits.'"
Senate staff say non-partisan Senate Counsel confirmed for Senator Thompson that payment for independent contractor services was not to be disclosed.
Posted at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2012
by Tim Pugmire
Filed under: MN Legislature
Former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, says she wants the focus of the 2012 session to be the work ahead, not on her.
Koch says that's why she's been been doing a series of media interviews before the start of session on Tuesday. She had been out of the public eye since resigning her leadership post in December amid allegations of having a relationship with a male Senate staffer. Koch still won't comment on anything about the relationship. In an interview today with MPR News, she said she's been trying to bounce back from what she describes as an "unbelievably difficult situation."
"I bear responsibility for this, but it's really hard," Koch said. "I mean it's something that I would never wish on anybody. So, you make a decision then when something this difficult happens, you have to kind of make a decision to pick yourself. It's actually a conscious choice that you have to make to say all right, I'm going to pick myself up and move forward."
Koch said her previous decision to not seek re-election to her Senate seat in November still stands.
(Video shot by MPR's Tom Scheck)
Stadium negotiators now say they have "grave concerns" about the viability of the Linden Ave. site for a prospective new Vikings stadium. That's the 30-acre option just north of the Basilica of St. Mary.
Several people familiar with the talks, but who did not want to be named, said that new doubts have arisen over whether the city of Minneapolis has the political support to sell a key part of the site -- the city's Currie Avenue public works facility.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R- Moorhead, is expected to be the House author of a stadium bill. He says he's still waiting for a definitive statement about whether or not Minneapolis is willing to sell.
"We understand that there was different legal opinions." he said in an interview today. He said one would require a 9-vote majority on the council to sell the property for a stadium. Another would require a simple majority.
"We've known all along that there are some key issues there that may prove to be problematic and may really make that site an impossible thing to pursue," Lanning said. "But I have not had any official word from the city of Minneapolis yet, even though I've heard through other sources that there may be some definitive answers to at least one of the questions that we knew was there."
He stopped short of saying the site was dead: "I haven't been told that it's officially off the table yet."
But he also but pointed out that the city may only be one of the "significant" obstacles to the site.
"The Basilica is another very important issue," Lanning said. "I don't think anyone wants to do battle with the church. That's not a very welcoming kind of challenge to have. But those who have had conversations there know its going to be a tough sell there.''
City council president Barbara Johnson did not return calls about the potential snag. A spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak would not confirm whether the land sale issue was blocking Linden Avenue.
The Minneapolis council is set to meet on the issue on Thursday, and could show their willingness -- or lack thereof -- to make way for a stadium then.(3 Comments)
Governor Mark Dayton has told the Vikings that if they want a stadium bill passed this year "its going to have to be the Metrodome."
That's according to spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci, responding to reports earlier in the day that a second Minneapolis site, near the Basilica of St. Mary, has been ruled out. She said the governor told Vikings owners by phone that their options had narrowed again.
The Vikings confirmed the conversation with Dayton today.
"Our ownership is extremely frustrated," team vice president Lester Bagley said of the situation.
And apparently, the Wilfs will get the chance to express that personally. Tinucci reports that Mark and Zygi Wilf are coming to Minnesota on Wednesday to talk about the stadium situation -- Metrodome or no.(8 Comments)
Posted at 8:15 PM on January 23, 2012
by Brett Neely
Filed under: U.S. Senate
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate Monday night passed a bill authorizing a replacement for the aging Stillwater lift bridge over the St. Croix River.
The bill, sponsored by DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar, passed the Senate with no debate under a procedure known as unanimous consent that is used for legislation considered uncontroversial.
The legislation grants an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that protects the St. Croix. The bill authorizes a four-lane replacement bridge south of Stillwater near the town of Oak Park Heights.
"This is a milestone for the St. Croix bridge project," said Klobuchar in a statement. "I hope the House will now take action and pass this critical legislation so that we can move forward and build this bridge."
An identical bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in the House of Representatives awaits a vote in that chamber. House leaders have not yet scheduled the bill for debate.
"The first of two hurdles towards necessary Congressional approval has been cleared by this legislation passing the Senate," Bachmann said in a press release. "I commend the bill's sponsor, Senator Klobuchar, and its cosponsors, Senators Franken (MN), Johnson (WI) and Kohl (WI), for getting this legislation through without a single opposing vote."
One of the possible holdups in the House is the opposition of DFL Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, who argue the cost of the project is excessive and say a smaller bridge would suffice.
"We need to find a common sense compromise because a $700 million bridge across the St. Croix River is bad fiscal policy, bad transportation policy, and bad environmental policy," said McCollum in a written statement.