Michael Brodkorb raises the stakes for GOP

Michael Brodkorb

Michael Brodkorb has elevated sexual politics to a whole new level.

The fired state Senate staff member has turned the metaphor on end Thursday by claiming that his dismissal as that body’s communications director for an affair with his boss amounts to gender discrimination. To prove that claim in a state or federal lawsuit, his lawyers said he’s prepared to identify Senate colleagues who had their own encounters with sex and politics and were treated differently.

Brodkorb, dismissed by the Senate last December when hints of his affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch first surfaced, raised the stakes at a news conference held by his lawyers.  Even by Brodkorb standards, the response to a statement by Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman breaking off mediation and accusing Brodkorb of extortion was lightning quick and brutally direct. 

Judging by the media scrum at the news conference where Brodkorb’s attorneys outlined their legal strategy, the lawsuit, if it’s not short-circuited by a mediated settlement, will be more than a minor distraction in the Senate Republican caucus.  Senators are already taking time away from official duties to disavow knowledge of pending litigation and, by inference, any suggestion their private lives might be under scrutiny.

 Brodkorb attorney Phil Villaume made it clear that, at least for now, no names would be made public if he and Brodkorb deposed senators and staff — male and female – in an attempt to show that their affairs did not result in termination, as did Brodkorb’s.

These developments prompted one state senator, who asked not to be identified for reasons you can imagine, to lament: “The caucus is not a safe place to talk.”

Times have changed

A day that shook the Capitol was a vivid illustration of how much times had changed since the days of Brodkorb’s iron-fisted control as the savvy strategist and communications chief.

Since he was ousted, GOP senators are airing at least some dirty laundry publicly. For example, when GOP Sen. Chris Gerlach was revealed as the owner of the company that sent out mailers urging support for a right-to-work amendment, the issue was raised, not by a DFLer, but by Republican Sen. Julianne Ortman. 

The amendment itself has sparked open caucus dissension. When jobs committee Chair Geoff Michel predicted the amendment would not pass out of his committee, author Dave Thompson was forced into a legislative bypass to get the bill, a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate union membership as a job requirement, into friendlier committee territory. 


MinnPost photo by Brian HallidayAttorneys Phil Villaume, Greg Walsh and Jeffrey Schiek discuss Brodkorb’s lawsuit during a Thursday news conference.

That some Republicans consider the bill political poison might have prompted Brodkorb to allow it to die a natural death.  He feared that constitutional amendments, including the marriage amendment that passed the Senate last year with 100 percent Republican support, could backfire. In fact, some opponents lobbying to defeat the marriage legislation say Brodkorb, whether through personal conviction or political shrewdness, was trying to keep such a divisive issue out the legislative session.

But even a bitter debate over social issues would be welcome to Steve Sviggum, Brodkorb’s replacement as communications director. At least the question would be directed at policy. Republican senators, at the start of the 2012 session, had high hopes of moving past the Brodkorb-Koch affair into a tight focus on government reform, a bonding bill and maybe stadium legislation.  Now, every Senate news conference, regardless of the topic, will likely include a set of questions that are extremely off-message.

Brodkorb would sympathize with his successor’s dilemma. Message control was his forte. And if the message was in response to an attack, Brodkrob made sure it was twice as deadly.

Brodkorb imprint

Even though Brodkorb was not at his attorneys’ news conference, his voice was heard. In a response to Ludeman, the sheet of talking points, the copies of the notice of legal claims and the language of the attorneys all had the Brodkorb imprint. Villaume, in so many words, described Ludeman as a bumbling hothead who overreacted to a media leak of Brodkorb’s unlawful dismissal claim filed with the state attorney general.

Become a sustaining member today

“The dishonest and factually inaccurate press release issued by the secretary of the Senate warranted a formal press conference,” Villaume said. “We are shocked and dismayed by the unprofessional and aggressive tone of the statement. Believing that Mr. Brodkorb had leaked the document, which he had not, Mr. Ludeman issued his over the top attack. It’s another example of how poorly he and the Minnesota Senate have handled what we consider to be this unlawful termination.”

Brodkorb’s legal team said they are prepared to name names if they move to litigation. “This is the only way to do it,” Villaume said. “We have alleged that our client was treated differently than other similarly situated employees who had relationships with members of government.”

Members of the Senate have reason to fear Brodkorb’s revenge. His meticulous attention to detail extended to knowledge of his colleagues’ private lives.  His commitment to a cause (in this case, himself) would be justification enough to use that information, especially since he sincerely believes he was wronged. 

Brodkorb is seeking upwards of a half million dollars in damages. Villaume justified the monetary amount this way: “His career has been irreparably damaged. He’s having a very difficult time finding new employment.”

But in terms of a public relations tour de force, Brodkorb may want to put this effort on his resume.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/16/2012 - 09:39 am.

    I’d make it an even million

    because if the distraction is delaying the legislature from passing more spending bills, it’ll actually save us a lot more than that.

  2. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 03/16/2012 - 09:54 am.

    Seems that Brodkorb…

    … is giving a real lesson to those that deposed him.

    I’m thinking that a taxpayer-paid buy-off for Brodkorb -directly by and tied to the GOP “leadership” – won’t play as a particularly “fiscally conservative” move next November.

    Then again, NOT paying Brodkorb off, and finding out he wasn’t bluffing, won’t play well either.

    Brodkorb is schooling them, and either way they play it: their cards aren’t as good.

  3. Submitted by Paul Scott on 03/16/2012 - 10:03 am.

    Live by the Brodkorb, Die by the Bordkorb

    In looking at the photo of the Brodkorb legal team, I have to ask a question not yet raised by this article — what’s Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott doing over there on the far right?

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/16/2012 - 10:07 am.

    …“His career has been irreparably damaged. He’s having a very difficult time finding new employment.”…

    Brodkorb bio:

    …Michael Brodkorb started Minnesota Democrats Exposed in July 2004. An opposition research and communications consultant, Brodkorb has spent his entire professional career working in Minnesota politics. During the 2006 elections, Brodkorb worked for Mark Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign and Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign….

    His two actions–crapping where you eat and biting the hand that feeds you–pretty much dictate the need for a different line of work.

    Would you hire him for your campaign? Actually issue a paycheck to him?

  5. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 03/16/2012 - 10:12 am.

    A fine dillema for the GOP– fight, and let the party of personal responsibility/family values look even more hypocritical (although presumably democrats will be named too). Settle, and let the party of fiscal responsibility explain why tax-payer money should be used to preserve their secrets.

  6. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 03/16/2012 - 10:20 am.

    Yet, more bad news for the republican legislators…

    I believe Michael Brodkorb is spot-on bringing forth a claim of discrimination as he did. When Amy Koch was forced to resign as Senate Leader, I wrote a comment on that story asking where the National Organization of Women was when they were needed. I think Sen. Koch has a potential claim as well. But, NOW and other advocacy groups were nowhere in sight.

    Oh yeah, and while I am at it, where was the NOW when President Clinton had his little tryst with Monica? Who rushed to her defense? Where was NOW then?

    Seems like those who purport to be advocates for these issues do so somewhat selectively.

    • Submitted by Ginny Martin on 03/16/2012 - 05:15 pm.

      NOW

      What would NOW have to do with either case? Why would they come forward and — do what? Ask them to atone for their sins? Why would NOW defend Koch or Lewinsky? On what grounds? This is just silly.

      • Submitted by Richard Pecar on 03/19/2012 - 08:03 am.

        For what it’s worth…

        Well Ginny, for the record…

        National Organization of Women states: “Our purpose is to take action to bring women into full participation in society—sharing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities with men, while living free from discrimination.”

        • Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/19/2012 - 08:56 am.

          For the record, Richard …

          … you could learn the correct name of the organization you are so keen to chastise.

          You’ve misnamed it twice now.

          And also for the record, or maybe this is just common sense: every organization — especially cash-strapped non-profits — Pick. Their. Battles.

          You set the bar for NOW to impossible heights, Richard, by demanding that they weigh in on every issue that you think they should.

          No organization could meet that standard.

          Seriously.

          • Submitted by Richard Pecar on 03/19/2012 - 10:40 am.

            Okay you win…but not much.

            I am quite familiar with cash-strapped advocacy organizations. Picking. Their. Battles.

            My experience is very deep and lasted decades. My experience is as a rule managers of the advocacy organizations more often than not pick battles to increase donations so managers might remain in a perfect place to pick new battles to wage to raise more money. Ah…picking battles is a good job.

            You should note my original issue criticized advocacy groups for being selective. You called it picking battles. Sorry, I should have said my opinion is these are political and wimpy. For over forty years my field has been one way or another preventing or correcting contamination of our environment. I was a business person and counted on advocacy groups to keep the pressure on the elected. All of the organizations with which I am familiar failed and I am familiar with all of them. End of that story.

            Sure…it could be said if some advocacy organizations had not existed things would be worse today. That’s a cop-out in my book. My bet is if Betty Friedan heard about Amy Koch thrown on the altar of kangaroo court; she would have been four-square behind calling out the duplicity of the republican leadership. My I say they discriminated against Amy Koch by holding her to a value that men are not held to.

            Brodkorb is no friend of mine, and neither are the current crop of republicans, but I think he has a good point and I am not so blinded by the practicality of politics and playing it safe by picking battles and all the rest of that balderdash not to stand up for that which I believe is correct.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/16/2012 - 10:32 am.

    Where will you find a sympathetic jury, Mr. B?

    It’s difficult to imagine. You, as well as Ms. Koch, were at the top of the GOP heap, charged with assisting in the creation of the GOP brand in Minnesota. Thw two of you chose to make ‘family values’ a cornerstone of that brand and then engaged in conduct which reflected anything but ‘family values’, however one might choose to define them. Once the relationship was discovered, your reputation and career prospects were toast, whether you were a Senate employee or an independent consultant. It’s all about judgment and the perception of judgment, Mr. B. Your conduct failed on both counts.

    When you try to demonstrate that you and others were treated differently, be sure to highlight the differences in status between your status and that of the other Senate members and staffers who you claim to have engaged in similar conduct. It can only help your case.

    You might well be able to prove that you were dismissed because of your relationship with Ms. Koch, but I look forward to watching you prove that it was your dismissal that caused your career to tank rather than your own abysmal judgment. A judgment of $1.00 would be more than just compensation.

  8. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 03/16/2012 - 10:56 am.

    He was not a civil service employee of the Senate

    He was the *appointed* chief assistant (so to speak) to Koch as Majority Leader. When she left that job, the job *for him* disappeared too. His job was to be the political hatchet man for her. His job was NOT one of “public service”–nor was it classified as such. Other people have civil service positions–so their jobs remain regardless of who is elected.

    • Submitted by Jim Camery on 03/16/2012 - 11:50 am.

      The issue of civil service is irrelevant

      The question of if he was appointed or a civil servant is a canard.

      Its tough for me to feel sorry for her, but the person who got screwed in this whole deal is Koch. A man in the same spot would have been admonished and done a presser with the wife talking about “challenges,” but she becomes persona non grata and is shunned.

      • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/16/2012 - 02:26 pm.

        Equal Treatment

        I agree that gender bias may exist, but I’m not convinced of the gender bias in this situation. Sen. Koch was the leader of a party that purports to define morality. This is a party that is pushing to protect, in their view, the sanctity of marriage with a constitutional amendment. How can you have an effective leader with such a recent history of transgression? I think a male Majority Leader would have been in the same boat.

        But I’m not so sure that, had it been a GOP senator in a non-leadership position, a male and female senator would have been treated equally.

    • Submitted by Bruce Bruemmer on 03/16/2012 - 11:56 am.

      Protected class

      His “at will” employment is not the issue here. As the article notes, you cannot fire people for illegal reasons. He seems to be claiming discrimination on the basis of gender, which places him automatically in a “protected class” (and now my five-hour manager’s course in discrimination finally looks relevant). To do that, he would have to prove that he was indeed treated differently because of his gender, hence the potential for bringing forth examples where such supervisory dalliances with women did not result in firing. This could make for great political theatre this summer, although I have no idea how this plays with the public at large.

  9. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 03/16/2012 - 11:12 am.

    More Republican hypocricy

    Like all the Republican voters on Tricare, Medicare, Social Security etc. Michael Brodkorb is willing to use DFL sponsored legislation to his advantage while simultaneously making sure that “government regulation and spending is decreased” for everyone else. Hypocrites all-with no shame.

  10. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 03/16/2012 - 11:56 am.

    It was funny when the family pit bull was chasing all the neighbor kids but now he’s loose in the house and he’s hungry and mad. I wish we were national so SNL could have some fun with this side show. Did the tax payers pay for her contraception?

  11. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 03/16/2012 - 01:32 pm.

    Not a bad analysis. A few tidbits jumped out at me.

    “Believing that Mr. Brodkorb had leaked the document, which he had not,” says the lawyer. Brodkorb’s early career was built on leaks and leaking documents, so of course someone might suspect him. But he’s also shrewd enough not to leave fingerprints.

    He often crafted his more outrageous statements so the negative meaning fell to the receiver’s interpretation. He didn’t engage in dialog to build relations and improve policy; he set rhetorical and strategic traps to destroy the opposition and win elections.

    “[W]hether through personal conviction or political shrewdness…” I’m surprised even Brucato can wonder about this, since she later observes, “His commitment to a cause (in this case, himself).”

    Finally, calling his performance a “public relations tour de force” is a misapplication of the term. This has been a PR disaster for the party and made him virtually unemployable, even as a very skilled political operative.

  12. Submitted by Tom Miller on 03/16/2012 - 01:37 pm.

    Money and Power

    When fired, Brodkorb’s salary was $94,000 (StarTribune 1/30/12). At resignation time, Sen. Koch’s salary was $31,140. If money is power, it is an interesting situation when the assistant earns three times what the boss makes. Generally one percieves the elected official as having power over the subordinate. I wonder, in the instances Brodkorb’s legal team could cite, how often this power reversal will be the case.

  13. Submitted by Barbara Gilbertson on 03/16/2012 - 03:23 pm.

    Brodkorb 101

    Let us remember the following:

    On his blog, “Minnesota Democrats Exposed,” Michael Brodkorb repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to thoroughly eviscerate and tar anyone he deemed to be wrong. He alone created his aura of “be afraid of me, be very afraid….”

    By his own admission, publicly stated, Brodkorb is a devotee of the murky Karl Rove, an arguably underhanded and over-the-top political strategist. Some refer to Brodkorb as “a Rove wannabe” or “a Rove acolyte.”

    For three months, Brodkorb (we now have confirmed) left his inamorata to twist slowly in the wind by herself once “her” sexual liaison became public. He dove for cover to protect his own behind. He out-earned her, and has demonstrated in recent days his deeply vindictive nature. Who had the power? Tell us again about gender discrimination, will you?

    This issue has nothing whatsoever to do with NOW (a stale, arcane talking point), and everything to do with faux morality and basic decency. Still, as someone noted here earlier, how does one keep a raging pit bull contained?

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 03/17/2012 - 09:02 am.

      It’s about power, not position

      You’re quite right on this point. Bosses are not supposed to dally with subordinates because there is a potential coercive element to the relationship. Exchanging sexual favors (or being in love) with the boss gives the subordinate a presumed advantage others don’t have.

      As vice chair of the party, a feared hatchet man and member of the men’s club, Brodkorb’s power didn’t come simply from his job or his salary.

      His attorney may find examples where a subordinate female had a relationship with her boss, but there will be nothing remotely like this. “Extortion” seems to cover the deposition threat pretty well.

  14. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 03/16/2012 - 05:10 pm.

    More Republican hypocricy

    Like all the Republican voters on Tricare, Medicare, Social Security etc. Michael Brodkorb is willing to use DFL sponsored legislation to his advantage while simultaneously making sure that “government regulation and spending is decreased” for everyone else. Hypocrites all-with no shame.

  15. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/16/2012 - 05:16 pm.

    He’s having a very difficult time finding new employment

    Well, maybe. On the one hand, I wouldn’t want this guy around anything I might want to keep confidential, and I’d never trust him not to turn on me. On the other hand, since he’s a pro at digging up other people’s dirt and and attacking them, someone will hire him to go after their opponents. Presumably they would try to keep his presence a secret.

  16. Submitted by Darron Knutson on 03/16/2012 - 06:53 pm.

    Blackmail

    Although Cal Ludeman really shouldn’t have used the terms “blackmail” and “extortion” to describe Brodkorb’s claims in public, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for the guy.

    Brodkorb and his attorney likely told Ludeman that it’d be a real shame if the Senate refused to settle the claim to Brodborb’s “satisfaction” and thus “forced” Brodkorb to subpoena Senators and Senate staffers to give depositions to substantiate his contention that similarly situated female staffers had affairs with members of the Senate, yet weren’t fired. I can’t blame Ludeman for drawing the conclusion that Brodkorb was, in effect, saying “pay me off or I’ll expose the sexual peccadilloes of as many Senators and Senate staffers as I can.” Whether that would amount to the crime of extortion under these circumstances is questionable, but Ludeman’s reaction is understandable.

    While a protective order would likely be entered to try to keep the contents of the depositions and maybe even the identity of the witnesses confidential, it’s very likely that the names of the witnesses would leak out, even if the parties try in good faith to comply with the protective order. People will see the witnesses going to lawyers’ offices for the depositions, co-workers will notice witnesses’ absence, and serving subpoenas also tends to attract attention.

    Brodkorb will, in any event, have a hard time proving that he was in all other material respects situated similarly to any female staffers who weren’t fired after having affairs with a Senator. The very nature of Brodkorb’s duties would differentiate him from most Senate staffers. He was supposed to be the Republican caucus’ mouthpiece, credibly and effectively advocating its policy positions. It would be rather difficult to take the Republican caucus’ insistence on promoting so-called “family values” with a spokesman so badly compromised in that respect as Brodkorb. The effectiveness of a Senate staffer working behind closed doors on, say, tax policy wouldn’t be compromised nearly so badly by an affair with one of her “bosses.”

    If it were my choice, I’d answer Brodkorb by saying “We didn’t fire you because you’re a man; we fired you because you’re an obnoxious a**hole.”

  17. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 03/16/2012 - 09:09 pm.

    “Honor” among thieves

    This result is the inevitable result of a political party lead by the feckless (def. aimless, purposeless,that being the DFL), with the majority Republican party lead by people utterly lacking in principles. There is no way this case by Brodkorb is not going to be settled to avoid the inevitable embarrassment to the hypocritical Republican majority. How many teachers or firefighters will we have to sacrifice to pay for this obnoxious settlement is what I wonder?

  18. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/17/2012 - 11:45 am.

    And any moneys awarded

    should come NOT from the general fund, but from the Republican caucus’s administrative funds.

  19. Submitted by Thomas Anderson on 03/18/2012 - 11:07 am.

    It’s pretty tough for you to use that line when the legislature is currently controlled by republicans. That’s never stopped you in the past though.

  20. Submitted by Walter Wozniak on 03/20/2012 - 05:41 am.

    Was this about Amy Koch to begin with?

    Just wondering if this whole thing is not so much about Amy Koch having an affair with a staffer, as to who that staffer is/was.
    Being the Republican attack dog against the DFL, maybe the party was worried if the day would come, it could turn on its master. Could they use this firing to get him to just go away, quietly, before he could further damage the Republican image and individual reputations? Apparently not.
    And, unfortunately for them, the day has arrived, that dog is growling and baring his teeth.
    The question now is, will they throw him a bone, or take a chance on getting badly bitten?

    Somehow the memory of J. Edgar Hoover comes to mind. Even though his job was to go after the nations bad guys, (which in Michael Brodkorb’s case was the Minnesota DFL) he used those same resources to keep dossiers on anyone whom he thought could be any kind of threat to him or his position. No one, regardless of standing or office was above or beyond Mr. Hoover’s scrutiny. This seems to have made for an exceptionally long career as head of the FBI.
    Also being in the information business, Mr. Brodkorb’s reach may soon be revealed.

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