The 10 most influential lobbyists in Minnesota

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

Rice drew some criticism in 2009 when he chipped in $20,000 to a very self-serving campaign. The Citizens for Independent Parks authored a proposal that would have granted the board greater independence. The measure would have allowed the Park Board to effectively bypass City Hall and appeal directly to the state for funds. Given Rice's established connections in the state Capitol, some in the city's political scene saw it as a naked power grab.

"He's already the park board's Rasputin," says a state official. "Whatever he says goes. The park board keeps complaining about how much they don't have, and yet they're paying more than a half-million-dollar salary to Rice. You can get a pretty good lawyer for a third the price of Brian Rice."

The Weed Killer

Name: James Backstrom

Key Clients: Minnesota Police & Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association

Law enforcement doesn't make the laws, the maxim goes—they just enforce them. Things aren't so simple in practice.

Although technically not a lobbyist (he's not registered as such), Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom frequently advocates on behalf of law enforcement, and has made his voice loud and clear inside the corridors of power.

"There's a joke that says whenever Jim Backstrom loses a case, we have to make a new law," quips one senator.

Or sometimes thwart one. When both chambers overwhelmingly passed a bill legalizing the regulated use of medical marijuana, law enforcement fought back. Despite the wishes of both parties and 60 percent of polled Minnesotans, Backstrom turned the tide by penning an editorial on behalf of the Minnesota Police & Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and the Minnesota Sheriffs Association. The op-ed ran in newspapers across the state in May 2009 and argued that legalized medical marijuana would lead to pot use by children, that weed is medically unsafe, and that medical organizations were against the measure.

Immediately after the piece went to print, bloggers and news sites pointed out the glaring fallacies inherent in each claim. Nevertheless, Backstrom and Co. had an easy mark in Governor Pawlenty, whose presidential ambitions made him less beholden to Minnesotans than to national polls of likely conservative voters. T-Paw vetoed the bill, citing the "feedback" he received from law enforcement.

The Gambler

Name: Dick Day

Party Affiliation: Republican

Key Clients: Gambling and horse racing industries

Calling Dick Day "influential" might be a bit of stretch, considering he entered the lobbying business just six weeks ago, but the former Senate minority leader nonetheless makes the cut for exemplifying the notorious "revolving-door" relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

During his six terms in the Senate, Day's pet issue was a bill that would allow Canterbury Park racetrack and casino to include slot machines. So when Day announced on December 7 that he'd soon be leaving his post to head a recently formed lobbying outfit called Racino Now—devoted to approving in slot machines in Canterbury—it turned some heads.

"I don't mind that as an elected senator, he thinks it's in the public interest to have slot machines," says a former colleague. "But to announce the same day that you're going to be making money advocating the same thing...I mean that's absolutely outrageous!"

Day gambled that he could be more effective working from the outside. He immediately took advantage by hitching his issue to the ongoing Vikings stadium controversy. The increase in revenue would solve the problem, he told reporters and officials, claiming the slots would rake in $125 million annually.

"I think the move was kind of nuts on his part," says a state senator. "He couldn't get much traction on the issue as a lawmaker, so why does he think he'll do any better as a lobbyist?"

Concerning his personal finances, however, it was a safe bet, the senator says. "I'm sure the money's better."

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