The 10 most influential lobbyists in Minnesota

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

Goodno won't elaborate on what, if any, misgivings he harbored while manning his old post, but acknowledges the transformation.

"I'm definitely wearing a different hat now," he says, leaving it at that.

The Black Widow

Name: Maryann Campo

Party Affiliation: Republican

Key Clients: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minnesota Tavern League

During her 19 years as a contract lobbyist, Campo has garnered the distinction of being the most relentless and direct advocate prowling the Capitol corridors. Whether they love her or loathe her, lawmakers agree there's something about Maryann.

"She tends to rub a lot of us the wrong way," says a DFL senator. "You're walking down the hall and bam! she's in your face with some random story. That can be annoying."

The go-to lobbyist for bar proprietors the state over, Campo fought against the statewide smoking ban, aggressively seeking exemptions for membership bars. Last year she peddled a bill that would have legalized slot machines in Minnesota bars (to no avail). Campo's proudest moment came in 2004 when she crusaded against a proposed .08 percent blood-alcohol level limit for driving a vehicle—a threshold she and her clients maintained was too low.

"Because of my efforts, Minnesota was the last state in the country to enact the .08 rule even though we were expected to be among the first," she says proudly. "If you want to know why I have a reputation for being a warrior, it's because my clients and I fight for things that are politically unpopular."

Her idiosyncratic style, coupled with a merciless streak, compels at least one senator to refer to her as the "the black widow."

"She's very patient, but not very forgiving," he says. "She's one person that you don't want to cross. Some of the organizations behind her have a couple hundred thousand people, and if you can get a couple of dollars from each one, wow, you're cooking with fire then."

Campo makes no apologies for her combative demeanor.

"My style is East Coast," she says. "I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I know not everyone appreciates my approach, but that's who I am."

The Unholy Relic

Name: Ron Jerich

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Key Clients: Xcel Energy, Qwest

Ron Jerich is a jocular character, exceedingly charismatic and quick with a joke. But beneath the grandfatherly veneer, according to those who've dealt with him, is a hustler with savoir-faire, money, and connections to burn. In that sense, Jerich is a throwback to a different era. He personifies the influence-peddling backdoor dealer who roamed Capitol halls before a 1993 gift ban put a damper on their activities.

"To this day, though, he certainly plays on his friendships and connections more than anyone I can think of," says a Democratic senator.

The quintessential contract lobbyist—"hired guns," they're often called—Jerich leaves few clues as to his personal sympathies. The one trait his clients all have in common is deep pockets: Xcel Energy, MN Ethanol Producers Association, Qwest, and Delta Airlines top the list.

Jerich's far-reaching clout is best illustrated by a 2002 scandal that he helped resolve. At the time, American Bankers Insurance Group was facing a $10 million fine for selling unlicensed insurance policies to about 200,000 Minnesotans. Looking to avoid what was then the state's largest-ever civilian penalty, American Bankers sought to implement a "political strategy," according to sworn testimony. Jerich recommended they get friendly with ranking officials, a political strategy that entailed getting rid of James Bernstein, commerce commissioner under then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. To that end, American Bankers cut a $10,000 check to the Tim Pawlenty for Governor campaign, which was illegal.

"It speaks to Jerich's reputation as a money man, a guy who'd take you over to the Blue Horse and pay for your martini and lunch," says a state investigator familiar with the case. "But since you can't do that anymore, Ron likes to pass the money around through committees and to his friends."

Jerich didn't return messages requesting an interview and was never accused of any legal wrongdoing associated with the case. Officers at American Bankers agreed to settle for $2 million.

"Pawlenty gave them a sweetheart settlement," says the investigator, "It was much, much less than anybody thought."

The Rasputin

of Parks and Rec

Name: Brian Rice

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Key Client: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Brian Rice is a wealthy man. A lobbyist for pension groups, Rice has long advocated more generous retirement funds for firemen, cops, and teachers, but it's his work for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board that ensures the vitality of his finances long after his own retirement.

The salary he commands representing the board has long been a source of intrigue for those who follow city politics. Last year Rice's firm raked in $433,830 from the board; in 2008 it pulled in $608,507. The unusually high salary has led some critics to wonder if there's a competitive bidding process in place. Whatever the case, the board sees a healthy return on its investment—it receives between $6 and $10 million annually in state funding.

"I can't sit around here and say it's all me," says Rice, who's lobbied on behalf of the park board since 1985. "It's really the tradition that goes back to the 1800s. Minneapolis has the best parks system in the country, and I'm proud to represent it."

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