Tony Sutton resigns from anti-gambling group

In an interview Sunday, Tony Sutton said that the CAGE issue and his public affairs firm had become a distraction.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
In an interview Sunday, Tony Sutton said that the CAGE issue and his public affairs firm had become a distraction.

Minnesota GOP Chair Tony Sutton has decided to resign from the board of an anti-gambling group that is supported by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association and close his consulting business, a move that may deflect questions about whether he exploited his party position to promote Indian gaming interests. 

The decision, though, raises a broader question about how unpaid, highly influential political figures can earn a living without wading into the murk of conflict of interest.

Questions about Sutton were raised after activists on a carefully guarded email list, limited to party use, began receiving emails from Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE), an advocacy group that opposes expanding gambling in Minnesota beyond trbial-own casinos and is  headed by former national Republican committeeman Jack Meeks.

The emails arrived as many Republican legislators are considering expanding gambling beyond the Indian-run casinos to deal with the state’s budget gap. As a longstanding CAGE board member, Sutton was asked by a member of the party’s executive committee whether he had provided the list, which he vehemently denied.    

In an interview Sunday, Sutton said that the CAGE issue and his public affairs firm had become a distraction, but maintained there was no conflict of interest with his work as GOP party chair.

“I have been completely consistent with the platform” he said, referring to a provision in the state GOP platform that opposes the expansion of gambling in Minnesota. “But there are other people who for their own purposes are trying to make an issue about this.”  

In Saturday’s email to members of the executive committee, Sutton wrote: “While I believe the goal of CAGE to stop the expansion of gambling is consistent with our platform, it would be better for me not to serve as a part of any outside organizations while I serve as State Chair. Further, I have decided to deactivate my public affairs company for the duration of my term as chairman as well. I will continue to be a vigorous and unapologetic defender of our platform, our candidates and our elected officials and I do not want anything detract from that.”    

Sutton is not the first political figure criticized for wearing two hats. Pat Anderson, GOP committeewoman, was called out by activists for taking on Canterbury Downs as a lobbying client. Former Senate majority leader Roger Moe, now a lobbyist, had to suspend his client work while working on the Mark Dayton transition team. And deputy GOP party chair Michael Broadkorb took a swipe from DFLer s for his dual roles as an unpaid deputy party chair and paid communications director for the Senate Republican caucus.

Sutton explained his decision to form a political consulting firm in addition to his duties as party chair: “I wanted to stay a volunteer and I thought I could [do] some things on the side that wouldn’t conflict with the party. The fact of the matter [is] I didn’t do a whole lot with it. In hindsight, I should have done something different.”

Sutton maintains members of the GOP executive committee are behind him. “I’ve personally got a lot of positive feedback,” he said.

The executive committee meets Thursday and Sutton predicts there will be no “melodrama.” But some members of the committee say they will ask Sutton tough questions about his involvement with CAGE, and Sutton acknowledges, “people will speak their piece.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Corey Sax on 05/15/2011 - 07:33 pm.

    Mr. Sutton’s wife is still a CAGE board member. I’ve been sent emails from sent by her to MNGOP delegates

  2. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 05/15/2011 - 10:22 pm.

    Tony Sutton must go! He is is a distraction within the party and has given the GOP a black eye that will stick around for a while! And Jack Meeks should go with him. If they need money, there’s a rumor of jobs at Mystic Lake.

  3. Submitted by Fran Johnson on 05/15/2011 - 11:53 pm.

    Tony Sutton has not been faithful to the GOP platform. First and foremost is electing more Republicans to office. By being part of a front group for the tribes, which have given tens of millions to the DFL, Sutton has effectively worked against the very party he leads. Would Tony work for George Soros if he gave him a few sheckels? Tony sold the Republican Party to the tribes and I don’t think that’s consistent with the platform either.

  4. Submitted by Robert Langford on 05/16/2011 - 10:39 am.

    Tony Sutton is the face of the modern Republican Party. Why shouldn’t he be paid to promote positions? Don’t you remember what he was like during the contests for office? He is truly speaking for all of the Republicans when he gets paid to take and promote positions. That is what the party has been doing and will continue to do. Anti-marriage consittuional votes, laws to allow rampant shootings of police officers called to quell marital disputes, elimination of medical services to the poor, elimination of uions to protect workers! That is what this Republican Party is all about, and Sutton represents the epitome Let him continue to make money for his political activity.

  5. Submitted by larry boss on 05/16/2011 - 03:29 pm.

    It is what it is. The Minnesota GOP leadership has been in a sorry state for over six years now. The State Central Delegates could demand a recall of Tony Sutton as party chair and vote for a special election to replace him, but they won’t. Why? I’m told most GOP state delegates are afraid of the vicious personal attacks that speaking up against the Sutton/Brodkorb regime would result if they did demand a change. They have seen others attacked and run from the party by these political thugs and they don’t have the guts to do the right thing by demanding honest, ethical and adult leadership. The DFL realized that they needed to change leadership after their 2010 election results and they have a new dynamic team in place for 2012. The Minnesota GOP delegates have a record of blindly supporting underhanded unethical thugs for leadership like Ron Carey, Tony Sutton and Michael Brodkorb.

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