State Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton is a businessman in his spare time (sort of like deputy chair Michael Brodkorb works for the state in his). You'd think those two would cut a fellow businessperson a little slack when he runs for a state office.
Instead Sutton says this about Independence Party
gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, after he sold his stake his public relations company:
"We renew our call for Horner to immediately disclose his client list so voters can make their own minds up about any potential conflicts of interest. By failing to come clean on his client list, Horner thumbs his nose at Minnesota's tradition of open government and demonstrates that he is just another politician who can't be trusted."
Of course, GOP endorsee Tom Emmer has also "failed to come clean" in this way, so this presumably makes him an untrustworthy politician as well.
But we'd get a year's supply of free chalupas from Sutton before we got consistency out of him, so let's just move on.
Sutton's nastygram to Horner is a great example of why business people with deep experience, sophisticated skills and broad connections look at running for office and think, "why would I take that crap from those clowns?"
Sutton isn't really interested in transparency and open government. He just wants to use disclosure so he can hammer opponents with it. (And he and his party aren't alone in this.)
Here's how it works.
Let's say I decided to run for public office. I started my company in 1988, a year before Horner co-founded Himle Horner. Although I've since sold it in a manner similar to Horner's, I still own a small piece.
Let's also say I was a prominent candidate for governor — a huge stretch, of course. Assume this blog never happened. Since I lack a criminal background, union affiliations and a record with an opposition party, Sutton's best line of attack would have to be my business affiliations over the years.
Suppose he insisted I immediately disclose my "client list." And suppose I wanted to comply. How would I do it?
Would I disclose:
- Every client of any size?
- Only current clients? Clients in the past five years? In the 20+ years since the company was founded?
- Clients whose work I supervised? Or also clients my partners have responsibility for?
- Net fees they paid the firm? Or all dollars that passed through our books to pay subcontractors?
- If my partners objected, would I disclose their clients anyway?
- If certain clients objected, would I tell them my political ambitions were more important than their concerns about confidentiality?
After a drumbeat from Sutton questioning why I was stalling because I must be hiding something, I might emerge from this process with a less-than-full disclosure.
That opens up the next round of fire. Here are a few samples that could be drawn from real life:
- Why didn't he disclose all his paydays from defense contractors? Because they ended more than 12 years ago.
- What about work with big insurance companies? Very old news and none involved lobbying or PR work.
- Hmmm, medical device companies, managed care — how can we trust him on health care policy? Maybe because I learned something about it?
- Look, banks, investment advisors and a company in the mortgage securitization business! What was his role in marketing flawed investments? The same as any other company that worked for those clients as that industry grew.
- Contracts with the state!! Some of it competitively bid, all small potatoes.
Transparency is all well and good, but transparency isn't just up to the guy doing the disclosing. The company's clients also have a say in the matter. And if clients don't want their affairs made public, a responsible business owner has to listen.
Reticence generally isn't because the clients are involved in plots to bilk the public or influence legislation. It's a feature of a competitive business environment, and Sutton should know that.
There aren't many professional services business owners out there trying to drum up clients with this pitch: "Work with my company, but give me permission now to disclose our connection and how much your firm spends with us — in case I decide to run for office some day."
If there are, please raise your hands.
Yes, some agencies do publish a "client list," but it's usually selective, and they certainly don't publish how much those clients spend. Some disclose big name clients even if they did one small project for them five years ago. And some firms that have nothing to do with feeding at the public trough do not publish their client list at all — because they consider it to be sensitive competitive information.
Yes, Horner's former firm sometimes tries to influence public opinion and gain support for initiatives that could involve public dollars. But it's not clear to me how his client list will help the voters understand the nature of that work. Or whether a multi-billion-dollar corporation that employs thousands of Minnesotans would have more influence with Horner than with Tim Pawlenty.
Horner and his former partners are not registered lobbyists, and Horner says government contracts
accounted for no more than 10 percent of the company's business.
That sounds about right. No sane business owner would want more than that, because public contracts typically don't pay as well, require more documentation, tend to evaporate and can expose you to controversy.
And to the spittle of people like Sutton.
Here's a disclosure of my Tom Horner connections. It's pretty boring, but I'd really hate for some GOP hatchet man to think I was hiding something that motivated this post.
During the years I ran my company, Horner's firm did some brief consulting related to a potential product liability issue for a client of mine, and John Himle and I spoke once or twice. After I sold my business, I did some staff enrichment sessions at his firm and spoke with Horner my one and only time. I collected 600 bucks.
Oh, yeah, and I was a speechwriter for the boss of John Himle's wife when Karen was at the St. Paul Companies.