DFL Chair Ken Martin: Expect an ethics complaint against Rep. Jim Hagedorn

Hagedorn hits back at DFL, Star Tribune

By: - August 26, 2020 3:09 pm

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.

The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party may lean on members of the state’s congressional delegation to file a formal complaint against Rep. Jim Hagedorn, following a Minnesota Reformer investigation of his office’s spending.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin told reporters Wednesday that he’s speaking with Hagedorn’s Democratic colleagues about the issue, noting that “it’s not a question of whether we will file, or if we will file, it is a question of how to do it in the most effective way.” 

“We are talking to members of Congress right now about our options,” Martin told reporters during a Zoom call. There are, he added, “moves that members of Congress can take internally, of course, to begin a House Ethics investigation, and I can tell you some of that is being discussed right now, given how egregious Jim Hagedorn’s actions are.”

Hagedorn fired back against Martin in a statement about the issue.

“The DFL is lying about the facts in this story to give life to a non-issue and prop up their ultra-liberal candidate, Dan Feehan, who’s (sic) radical left-wing views don’t fit the First District,” he said in a statement emailed by his campaign spokeswoman.

Feehan, who narrowly lost to Hagedorn in 2018, is a combat veteran with experience at the Pentagon and as a teacher before he began running for Congress. 

Calling the allegations against Hagedorn “explosive,” “very disturbing” and “extremely suspicious,” Martin cited the Reformer investigation, as he held a press call with ethics and campaign reform experts.

Although only members of Congress can complain about their colleagues to the House Ethics Committee itself, Martin and the experts noted they might file a complaint themselves with the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent outside body that investigates allegations of wrongdoing and makes recommendations to the Ethics Committee.

The only reason they might hold off? The allegations are already so public that they are almost certain to become the subject of an investigation, Martin said.

Craig Holman, an ethics and campaign finance lobbyist with the progressive watchdog group Public Citizen, and Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for End Citizens United, agreed they’re certain the case is already probably on the Ethics Committee’s agenda.

“I typically do file ethics complaints,” Holman said, “But I have not filed one against Hagedorn in this case because it’s already public.”

Rep. Jim Hagedorn represents Minnesota’s First District after a narrow victory in 2018.

Hagedorn’s office spent a large amount of money on printing and mailing in the past year, including more than $100,000 on a company owned by one of his staff members, John Sample. That is unequivocally a violation of ethics rules, Martin told reporters.

“Hagedorn clearly violated House ethics rules when he did this,” he said. “Congressmen are not allowed to use tax dollars to line their pockets or the pockets of their cronies or the pockets of their staff members.”

The office spent another roughly $340,000 since 2019 with Abernathy West, a company that was only created in August 2019 and does not disclose its owners.

“If it turns out that his other company also is owned in part, or wholly, by someone associated with Hagedorn or anyone in his office, we’re kicking this issue up in terms of scandal and seriousness,” Holman said.

Although the Star Tribune reported this week that Hagedorn had a hands-on role in approving mailings sent by his office, Hagedorn strongly disputed that the internal emails the newspaper published prove he was more involved than he has previously let on, and disputed Martin’s claim that Hagedorn has been lying or changing his story.

“For Democrats and the Star Tribune to conflate those duties with my work to review mass mail communications or help staff field media inquiries about our office budget is complete nonsense, careless journalism and purposefully mixing apples and oranges to further this non-story,” he said in the statement.

Hagedorn added that he delegated the “nuts and bolts duties” to his chief of staff, Peter Su, but fired him in mid-June after becoming concerned about the office’s process for sending mail to constituents.

Hagedorn promised that once Eliot Berke, a prominent ethics lawyer the office has hired, completes his review of the office’s spending, the results will be released to the public.

Still, Martin called on Hagedorn to explain his role in the decision-making and “come clean” about who owns Abernathy West.

“He needs to come clean about who owns Abernathy West and why he hired them,” Martin said. “It’s only fair Minnesotans should assume the worst here until he helps clear it up.”

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Daniel Newhauser
Daniel Newhauser

Daniel Newhauser is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, Roll Call, VICE, National Journal and several other publications.