Shawn Towle is a credentialed Capitol reporter who posts stories occasionally at Checksandbalances.com. Some might call him left-leaning, but his personal politics isn't an issue -- after all, the openly conservative True North blog is also credentialed.
The problem is that according to MNGOP officials, Towle has received almost $40,000 from the DFL since 2012, including a payment of $1,000 in the DFL's most recent financial report.
"Sen. Bakk has been secretly paying Shawn Towle for 'research' while allowing him to remain a credentialed member of the press corps," Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, says in a statement. "How can the public trust what's going on at the Capitol if the reporters are being paid by the politicians?"
In a letter sent yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, Hann calls upon his DFL counterpart "to inform the Chief Sergeant at Arms of these payments so he can take the necessary steps to revoke the press credentials of Mr. Towle."
The letter alleges that the DFL's arrangement with Towle violates Senate Rule 16.1(a), which states:
The Sergeant at Arms may not issue credentials or day passes under this rule to political organizations. For the purposes of this rule, "political organization" means an organization owned or controlled by a registered lobbyist, a political party, or any party organization.We first heard about the Towle situation a few weeks ago and got in touch with Senate Sergeant at Arms Sven Lindquist. He told us he had no idea Towle was being paid by the DFL until we told him about it.
"We credential for a biennium and for the most part we've never had reason to be concerned about credential information," Lindquist said, adding that longtime Capitol reporters like WCCO's Pat Kessler or Towle, who has been listed in the Capitol Press Corps Directory going at least as far back as 2006, typically are recredentialed without their applications facing strict scrutiny.
But Lindquist acknowledged that the DFL's payments to Towle are problematic.
"In the case of Towle, if he is working for one or both political parties -- and I would have no knowledge of that -- the rule does state that he should be responsible [and let us know about] any change in his reporting status," Lindquist said. "What I'm hearing now about this, it will have to be looked at further... we've never had to go down this path before."
Lindquist said the one significant thing a Capitol credential allows reporters to do is to "have access to the Senate chamber, and with God as my witness I've never had [Towle] attempt to gain access to the Senate floor, and he's been credentialed since perhaps '99 or 2000."
DFL Senate Caucus Communications Director Amos Briggs points out that Towle has "been credentialed under DFL and GOP majorities, although you will notice that the credentialing authority named in the rule is nonpartisan."
Towle, for his part, says he's been paid for his services over the years by both the DFL and MNGOP.
(For more, click to page two.)
"I am not a political organization and not a lobby group," Towle tells us. "I have taken money from GOP groups and the Republican Party. I take money from anybody that's interested in my political knowledge and information."
Indeed, financial reports indicate Towle's consulting business received $15,000 from the MNGOP in 2010 and 2011, when Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislature.
Towle compares his situation to that of reporters working for a right-leaning station like KSTP.
KSTP owner Stanley Hubbard "gives money to candidates and supports candidates, and in turn owns a media entity," Towle says. "I'm the same thing. KSTP receives money for political ads -- does that mean they're of the same stripe?"
But while Towle might not think getting paid by the DFL is a big deal, Hann certainly does.
In his letter, he tries to pin some of the blame on Bakk.
"Sen. Bakk's failure to disclose political payments he made to a member of the credentialed press is dishonest and damages the integrity of the Senate," Hann writes. "Shawn Towle's press credentials should be revoked immediately and Sen. Bakk should let the Senate know if anyone else in the capitol press corps is being paid by the Democrats."
Lindquist said Towle's credential will come under intense scrutiny next legislative session, if not sooner.
"In light of this conversation, when we credential for the '15 session, he's going to have some explaining to do," Lindquist said.
To read the entirety of Hann's letter to Bakk, click to page three.