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Strib editorial: Steve Sviggum has a conflict of interest

MORNING EDITION

“Conflict,” “interest” and “Steve Sviggum.” They’re all there together in a Strib editorial: "For the second time since joining the board, Sviggum's employment has put him in a situation fraught with conflict of interest. The first conflict was resolved when Sviggum chose to resign from a teaching position at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. We believe that Sviggum again has a choice to make. He should not be both a regent and a Senate Republican staff member. ... Sviggum's new job binds him to the legislative branch. As a Senate employee, he is beholden to his bosses. He will be obliged to tell them what he knows about university lobbying strategy — while as a regent, he inevitably will be party to shaping that strategy. He will be paid $102,000 a year to represent the Senate GOP position to the public. Will that duty extend to the regents' chambers?”


Not only did they lose a laptop full of confidential information, but … they had no right to have the information in the first place. That’s Minnesota AG Lori Swanson’s position as she files suit against a Chicago company. MPR’s story, by Elizabeth Dunbar, says: “Swanson said the failure to protect such data was enough to file suit against the company for alleged violations to federal and state health privacy and consumer protection laws. But Swanson also said Accretive shouldn't have had access to such sensitive health information in the first place. It's information 'that should be between a patient and their doctor, not a patient and a debt collector,' Swanson said. Accretive worked for both North Memorial and Fairview as a debt collector, and is licensed in Minnesota as a debt collector, Swanson said. Fairview's relationship with Accretive went further, she said, in a contract that allowed Accretive to help negotiate contracts with insurance companies. Under the arrangement, Fairview would receive incentive pay to cut patient costs, and some of that incentive pay was shared with Accretive, she said. Swanson said the hospitals provided the patient health information to Accretive, but neither is named in the lawsuit.”

Curly the Goat is safe! For the Forum papers, Patrick Springer says: “Curly the fugitive Angora goat who fled a Nativity scene and defied capture is now safe at home. She was found Wednesday afternoon near Fergus Falls among her own kind at the Tony Loomer farm. ‘They found Curly eating oats with their goats,’ said Karen Aakre, Curly’s happy owner. But after 25 days on the run, Curly was showing signs that the subzero cold weather was taking its toll. ‘She was shivering when they found her,” Aakre said. “She was covered with frost and ice.’ ”

Two Minnesota executives have been hired by the federal government to lure more tourists to our shores. Jim Spencer of the Strib says: “Maureen Bausch, executive vice president of business development at the Mall of America, and Hubert Joly, chief executive of Carlson Companies, joined the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. They are among 32 executives from across the country who will spend the next two years advising the secretary of commerce on travel and tourism policies that could make it easier to visit the U.S. The number of foreign visits to the U.S. has dropped dramatically over the past decade, costing the nation more than $606 billion in economic activity over the past decade, according to the U.S. Travel Association.” I blame socialist, secular humanism.

There are medications for this condition … UnitedHealth, while still (cough) profitable, is describing its outlook as “cautious.” Jackie Crosby at the Strib writes: “Shares dropped 3 percent to $52.32 after the Minnetonka-based health care giant said it expects claim costs to rise in the year ahead as Americans use more medical services. Levels may be closer to those seen before a dropoff in 2010, as people stayed away from the doctor's office and put off elective surgeries to save cash. CEO Stephen Hemsley told analysts in a morning conference call that the company is maintaining its profit outlook and is taking an ‘appropriately cautious posture’ for the year ahead.” ... Perhaps a bake sale to shore up those numbers.

The state GOP has some ideas for what to do about our financial problems. Doug Belden and Megan Boldt write: “ ‘Our priority is private-sector job growth,’ Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said at a news conference detailing the Republican plan. The GOP kicked off its efforts last summer with meetings around the state to gather public input. Benson said the three key principles to fostering a better business climate will be:
• Looking at the cost and quality of education, health care and energy.
• Pursuing a "growth-friendly" tax structure.
• Reducing regulatory and permitting obstacles.
Talk of reform has been kicking around the Capitol for years, said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, but the budget surplus and relatively open agenda this session have opened a window to get things moving. ‘This is actually reform for the sake of reform,’ he said. ‘This is big. This is bold reform. ... This is changing the way the entire place works.' " But if there’s a chance at another anti-gay marriage bill ...

Not that I’m saying it’s over for that Arden Hills stadium, but … come on. Frederick Melo in the PiPress writes: “If diehard sports fans are waiting for Ramsey County to come up with a dynamic new financing plan for a Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, they can stop holding their breath. Short of building a tribal casino to cover the county's share of the $1.1 billion stadium proposal, this pony is out of tricks. While questions linger, it appears Minneapolis may be gaining favor at the Capitol to host a new stadium. ... Arden Hills stadium proponents are hoping for a Hail Mary pass. For instance, Native American gaming interests recently made a controversial pitch to a state Senate tax committee. The White Earth Tribal Council — the largest American Indian tribe in the state — has proposed a Twin Cities casino to fund the stadium. An initial proposal called for a hotel/casino in Arden Hills with 4,000 machines, 150 table games and 500 rooms. The tribe estimated the casino would garner $300 million in net revenue, to be split between them and the state. The Indian Gaming Association, which represents the state's other tribes, has said it will lobby against any off-reservation gambling, including the White Earth plan.”

There is, of course, no upside to an investigation, is there?  Gregory Pratt at City Pages writes: “Former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch won't face an ethics complaint for having an affair with a senate staffer. Koch resigned in December after her fellow Republican legislators confronted her with allegations that she was having an affair with a subordinate staffer ... New Senate GOP leader Dave Senjem announced today that he would not seek an ethics complaint against Koch or any other senators over the affair. ​Senjem said the affair was in the past. Not everyone is happy with Senjem's announcement: Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said this afternoon that he'd like an investigation of how the Koch scandal was handled by Republican leaders.”

Former Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey is considering getting into the recall race against Scott Walker. The Green Bay Press Gazette’s Jake Miller writes: “Obey reiterated Wednesday he hopes other high-profile politicians will challenge Gov. Scott Walker for the office. But he hasn't ruled out entering the race himself, either. Obey said in a phone interview he wants either Sen. Herb Kohl or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to enter the race, joining other Democratic hopefuls such as former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who announced Wednesday her intention to run against Walker. ... ‘I've been talking with a number of different people, but as I say, I'm primarily interested in seeing to it that we win, and that's why I believe the two best candidates are Kohl and Barrett,’ Obey said.” 

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Comments (5)

It's weird how Republicans can talk to people all over the state in the year 2011 and come up with the same ideas they had in 1980.

Sviggum has to quit his job as a regent, no doubt about it. It's pretty brazen for him to insist there's no conflict of interest here, and if he doesn't leave voluntarily it just makes him look worse.

The Strib has a point on Mr. Sviggum's conflict of interest. He'll have to choose between his two paying jobs and the prestige of regent.

Really, we're down to promoting tourism to turn the economy around? I can see the November ad now: "Mr. President, you've just won re-election. What next?" "We're going to Disneyworld - and this time we're taking the girls!"

Arden Hills down; Minneapolis to go.

Senator Senjem's just hit on a sure-fire way to reduce our criminal justice system costs to near zero: don't prosecute any crime that occurred in the past. Can we expect an ethics complaint regarding his present decision, which pretty clearly puts political and/or personal considerations ahead of the public's right to know just what happened?

Ya' gotta love how Republicans are always trotting out that old "it's in the past" line to let people off the hook - as long as those on the hook were other Republicans.

But let it be a Democrat they're criticizing, and everything is fair game.

Not that this surprises me . . . . .

So...Fairview is sharing health information with a debt collector that also acts to negotiate insurance contracts and get paid incentives to cut patient costs. Holy cow! Beyond the HIPAA violations, I'm sure there are some very big no no's that Fairview has committed with this bedmate. Please, someone do some thorough investigation on this. I want to know if I should continue to patronize Fairview.