The 10 most influential lobbyists in Minnesota

Meet the invisible hands behind some of the state's biggest bills

Name: John Knapp

Party Affiliation: Republican

Key Clients: American Insurance Association, MN Business Partnership Inc.

Kevin Cannon

John Knapp received unusually high praise from state lawmakers. A soft-spoken, hyper-connected attorney for lobbying powerhouse Winthrop & Weinstine, he's essentially the GOP's answer to Ted Grindal. Much like Grindal, his smarts and calm disposition have made him more friends than enemies during his 32 years lobbying the state Capitol.

"I'm a Democrat, he's a Republican, but I've always thought of him as a thoughtful, hard-working person," says one state senator. "He has very good insights on complex subjects, particularly taxes and intellectual property. He's a real educator."

A fixture within Minnesota Republican business circles for decades, Knapp has connections that played a central role in coaxing the Republican National Convention to St. Paul in 2008.

But his greatest contribution to the GOP comes in the form of cash. Corporations are prohibited from contributing directly to candidates, which is why lobbyists like Knapp have so much money to spread around in the first place.

"Because the contributions have to come from the lobbyists personally, the theory is that a portion of their salary is expected to make its way to candidates," says a high-level Senate staffer.

Based on Knapp's past campaign contributions, he appears to be raking in more than the typical lobbyist. In 2008, for instance, Knapp chipped in $20,250 of his own money to candidates— $5,700 of which went to then-Sen. Norm Coleman's coffers.

"He's one of the big-money ones, no doubt about it," says a senator. "I'd say he's one of the less slimy ones, but he's one of those guys whose clout is due to his resources."

The Chambermaid

Name: Bill Blazer

Key Client: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Some lobbyists derive exceptional influence not by their personality or campaign contributions, but via the powerful clients they serve. Lawmakers point to Bill Blazer, senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, as a perfect example.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is the 800-pound gorilla in the Capitol. The Chamber spends twice as much on lobbyists as any other organization in the state; the $1.8 million it doled out in 2008 nearly doubled the next highest spender (Xcel Energy, which spent $936,602). The Chamber pays 16 lobbyists, but it's Blazer whom lawmakers point to as the organization's face.

"He's easy to get along with," says one DFL senator, "but he and the Chamber are probably the most aggressive of the lot."

In 2006, a bill informally dubbed "the Wal-Mart bill" passed a Senate committee and was gaining political traction amid the retail giant's corroding reputation. The legislation would have required any business with more than 10,000 employees to chip in on health care insurance for workers. But Blazer and his colleagues argued that the measure would bleed jobs.

"I asked him, 'Why are you guys fighting this? How can these workers expect to be taken care of?'" says another senator. "Their solution was to effectively pass along health care costs onto taxpayers and small businesses."

The bill was radioactive. With its substantial financial backing, and the clout it wields come election time, the Chamber of Commerce can change elections.

"Candidates are afraid of the Chamber," says the same senator. "A lot of times, lawmakers are on the fence on a lot of bills. When they are, they'll often take their cues from the Chamber."

Like any good lobbyist, Blazer is quick to deflect credit.

"I'm responsible for the lobbying we do at the Capitol, but the day-to-day responsibilities fall on Tom Hesse, our vice president of government," Blazer says. "To the extent that the Chamber is successful, it's due largely to Tom."

Doctor Goodno

Name: Kevin Goodno

Party Affiliation: Republican

Key Clients: Medtronic, American Heart Association, Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

During his time as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the former state representative garnered a reputation as a curmudgeon seemingly opposed to any and all financing of public health. Considering his boss, the stance was all but a prerequisite. Gov. Tim Pawlenty had budgets to slash and taxes to cut. Perched ominously before health and finance committees, the looming Goodno time and again announced cuts to hospitals and nursing homes—and in doing so, adopted a demeanor and tone one might expect from a man tasked with axing your grandma's dental insurance.

"It's hard to forget the brass knuckles he carried around as commissioner," says a member of the Health and Human Services Budget Division. "I liked him as a guy, but his take on health care expenditures was uncompromising."

Since registering as a lobbyist with Freidrickson & Byron in 2006, Goodno has done a complete 180, much to the astonishment of his former adversaries. He's aggressively pushed for more health care spending, representing organizations like the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota (he's the group's president), the American Heart Association, and Meals on Wheels.

The freshest ink on his résumé would have seemed unfathomable earlier in the decade.

"I remember him as being very rude, very disrespectful," says a DFL senator. "Looking back, I think he was uncomfortable delivering the governor's message. He was taking on issues that weren't true to his values."

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