Former MN Governor Accuses AG Ellison's Office of Corruption Over Mining

Former MN Governor Accuses AG Ellison's Office of Corruption Over Mining

Photo by Dave Saville/FEMA News Photo: Minnesota, April 8, 1997 -- Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson and U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich prepare to survey flood damage. 

arne carlson

From the desk of Arne Carlson

Carlson Writes Attorney General Ellison, State Commissioners

“When do you think the state’s Chief Legal Officer will be getting around to enforcing the law?”

In a letter authored by former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and three commissioners of state agencies, Carlson noted that “you have been hearing from us for some five years about serious corruption and illegalities in state government but we have not had the privilege of a single substantive responsive.”

Carlson referenced what he called “corrupt actions” by employees of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) “who put the financial interests of Glencore above the safety and well-being of the people of Minnesota.” For many years, Glencore and its PolyMet subsidiary have attempted to secure leases and permits to mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeast Minnesota.

The former governor referenced the findings of the Minnesota Supreme Court which found actions of the MPCA employees to be “arbitrary and capricious” while also revoking a permit to PolyMet.

Carlson also noted that the U. S. Justice Department in 2022 accepted Glencore’s guilty plea on a variety of bribery charges and its agreement to pay $1.1 billion in fines for its actions.

In the letter, Carlson asked Ellison why he didn’t come forth and investigate Glencore following its guilty plea. “Was there outside pressure?” Carlson asked, adding, “When do you think the state’s Chief Legal Officer will be getting around to enforcing the law?”

Carlson did reference a November email exchange with a state senator attesting to the “firm grip the mining industry has on our state’s legislature,” and suggesting “It is abundantly clear that caucus leaders have utilized coercive and illegal tactics to compel conformity with the wishes of a corporate interest and against those of the public.”

The following is a referenced December 26 letter from Carlson to state officials and a November 28 email exchange between Carlson and Attorney General Keith Ellison:

Document 1: Carlson December 26, 2023 letter

To: Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General

Brooke Cunningham, Minnesota Department of Health

Katrina Kessler, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Sarah Strommen, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

If we may, we would draw your attention to a public message you posted entitled “About Our Office “which described the purpose and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General.  You stated that you were “the chief legal officer of the state of Minnesota“and further declared that “the office welcomes hearing from the public.”

Well, with all due respect, you have been hearing from us for some five years about serious corruption and illegalities in state government but we have not had the privilege of a single substantive responsive. 

You have had more than two and a half years to fully review the study by the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota which concluded that the legislature was granting special favors to wealthy campaign contributors including the opportunity to “shape” legislation. In brief, public policy is being sold. This is clearly illegal and totally corrupt but, so far, your office has done nothing.

Further, you have had nearly five years to investigate the wholly corrupt actions of several employees of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency who deliberately violated the law by withholding from the public important pollution information relating to PolyMet which is owned by Glencore. In essence, these offenders were state employees who put the financial interests of Glencore above the safety and well-being of the people of Minnesota.

To be clear, allow us to again remind you of the findings of the United States Department of Justice which stated the following in May, 2022 after Glencore’s plea of guilty and its agreement to pay $1.1 billion in fines:

“The scope of the criminal bribery scheme is staggering. Glencore paid bribes to secure oil contracts. Glencore paid bribes to avoid government audits. Glencore bribed judges to make lawsuits disappear. At bottom, Glencore paid bribes to make money - hundreds of millions of dollars. And it did it with the approval, and even encouragement of its executives.” 

Many nations that have been exploited by Glencore’s “criminal bribery scheme“ and whose land and resources were permanently harmed by Glencore’s mining operations would certainly agree with this assessment from our nation’s Department of Justice. 

However, that is not the case with Minnesota State Government where the Governor and legislative leaders of both parties are intent on protecting this corrupt company. As previously noted, the Legislature has for five years consistently refused to hold any hearings on any legislation not acceptable to the mining industry and the Governor has reneged on his promises to reform the mining laws etc. The state has even employed, at the expense (over $6.5 million) of the Minnesota taxpayer, a Denver law firm that specializes in representing mining companies to assist Glencore with the permitting process.

How is it that millions of dollars of Minnesota taxpayer money can be spent to aid a convicted corporate felon while the state government is oblivious to the safety and well-being of the public?

In August of this year, the Minnesota Supreme Court found the actions of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2018 to be “arbitrary and capricious” in issuing a permit to PolyMet (Glencore) and revoked the permit and severely chastised the agency for the illegalities previously cited. It should be noted that you, as Attorney General, paid no attention to this lawless behavior when you assumed office in 2019 and continued to ignore it even after the recent ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court. 

Now, we, the undersigned, have sufficient experience in government to know that agency employees rarely take questionable actions without very specific orders from the agency’s Commissioner who takes his direction from the Governor. We ask you as Attorney General to tell the people of Minnesota: Who gave the illegal order? 

And since Glencore specializes in bribery, why did you not immediately come forth and investigate?  Was there outside pressure? Did you, as the Attorney General, consider referring this matter to other enforcement entities such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or the FBI? Did you seek any outside assistance?

Finally, our communication to you this past November 28 contained an email from a State Senator attesting to the firm grip the mining industry has on our state’s legislature. This Senator outlined the bullying, the threats etc. that prevent legislators from being able to represent the best interests of the people of their district and the state. It is abundantly clear that caucus leaders have utilized coercive and illegal tactics to compel conformity with the wishes of a corporate interest and against those of the public.

When do you think the state’s Chief Legal Officer will be getting around to enforcing the law? 

Rest assured that, unless we receive a serious response from you, we will proceed with other authorities.

 

Respectfully,

Arne Carlson, Retired Governor – Independent Republican

Tom Berkelman, Retired Legislator - DFL

Janet Entzel, Retired Legislator - DFL

 

Document 2: November 28, 2023 letter

To: Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General

Dear Attorney General Ellison,

As you know, we sent you our report entitled, “The Future Is Today“(August, 2021) which outlined the enormous rise of special interest influence in our state’s legislature and documented the extraordinary increase in political donations to the legislature’s four party caucuses. We noted, for instance, that for the 2020 legislative elections, they amassed over $26.5 million or some $130,000 per incumbent. As a former legislator, you know that massive sum of money did not come from neighborhood coffee parties or local bean feeds.

That report also cited a most important study (May, 2021) by the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota that concluded that our Minnesota State Legislature was granting special favors to wealthy contributors including the opportunity to “shape” legislation. This selling of influence is clearly corrupt. Public policy belongs entirely to the people.

Professor Larry Jacobs, a co-author, observed: “Big money in our politics is a threat to our elections and lawmaking. “

Further, Associate Professor Kathryn Pearson, also a co-author of the study, found that “these patterns of spending make partisan politics a team sport, contributing to the rise of partisan polarization that makes legislating difficult.”

Hence, we not only have the illegal selling of influence to wealthy donors but the resultant partisan gridlock as well. This corruption is a direct assault on the public’s right to a clean government that is “of the people, by the people, for the people“.

For some five years, we have written published commentaries outlining this widespread corruption with a focus on the subservience of the Governor and the legislature (both parties) to domestic and foreign mining conglomerates. 

Even the Minnesota Supreme Court took note of this submissiveness in August of this year when they severely chastised the Minnesota Pollution Agency for allowing some of its employees to withhold from the public a variety of concerns relating to pollution by PolyMet which is owned by Glencore, a well-known global polluter with a specialty in the bribing of public officials. In essence, these employees whose salaries are borne by the taxpayer were actually working for the interests of a foreign mining conglomerate instead of the people of Minnesota.

 

Yet, nothing was done. Absolutely nothing. Both the Office of Attorney General and the Governor failed to launch any type of investigation to determine who gave the order to those employees to deliberately violate the law. Nor did the legislature show any interest whatsoever. Instead, life went on. A gross illegal act was ignored and those employees who betrayed their loyalty to the public, were retained, given pay raises and, in one instance, made Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. 

There appear to be no limits to the generosity afforded to the rich and powerful.

Attached is a communication from a State Senator verifying the absolute loyalty legislative caucuses have to the monied interests. In this case, the Senator refused to buckle under to the will of the mining industry and his own caucus leaders punished him by orchestrating a well-funded primary campaign against him. 

Clearly, the will of the people and their right to representation was thwarted by corrupt caucus leaders. Perhaps the worse of this is that this example of successful coercion is used to this day to maintain conformity and obedience.

This is the smoking gun. This selling of public policy to the affluent few must stop. Not only is our very limited supply of healthy drinking water in serious jeopardy but our democracy as well.

We, former legislators from different parties, unite in calling upon you to fully investigate all matters cited in this communication. The public’s right to representation must not be subordinate to money and its corruptive power. 

We look forward to your response.

 

                                          

Respectfully,

Arne Carlson, Retired Governor – Indepe3ndent Republican

Tom Berkelman, Retired Legislator – DFL

Janet Entzel, Retired Legislator – DFL

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