Another day, another DFL legislator with a conflict of interest

Rep. Mike Howard (DFL-Richfield) has surged ahead of Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart (DFL-Minnetonka) in the race to see who could have the biggest conflict of interest at the state capitol. We’ve already written about Johnson Stewart’s massive conflict of interest as she voted for billion-dollar transportation bills while owning a consulting firm with millions in contracts with MNDOT. Sen. Johnson Stewart finally declared a potential conflict of interest on a bill regarding the Southwest Light Rail project last week. A win for transparency!

Our new conflict of interest champ was recently hired by Haven Housing, a huge player in the affordable housing game.

Housing has been one of Howard’s top priorities in the Legislature and as a member of the majority party in the House, he’s been an influential voice in funding. He is currently the Vice Chair of the Housing Finance and Policy Committee.

Haven Housing is a North Minneapolis-based non-profit that provides housing services for women and children experiencing homelessness. Importantly, Haven is a member of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH). According to their mission statement:

We achieve our mission and vision through advocacy inside the Capitol, outside the Capitol and in the media. With our partners, MCH has advocated for state funds to build or preserve over 13,000 units of affordable housing, and cultivated over $390M in legislative wins for housing stability across the state.

Rep. Howard is now the communications manager for a key partner of a lobbying organization that lobbies the Housing Finance Committee, of which he is the Vice Chair. A very cozy relationship.

To be clear, working for Haven Housing and leading a committee is not against the law. Just like with Sen. Johnson Stewart, the violation of law occurs when Howard fails to disclose the conflict of interest to his constituents and his colleagues in the House. So far, that disclosure hasn’t happened.

What has happened is a press conference hosted by Rep. Howard (the legislator) promoting his $1.1 Billion “Bring it Home, Minnesota” bill, nine days after being hired by Haven Housing. The bill would provide taxpayer-funded rent subsidies to “more than 220,000 rent households” in Minnesota. Then Howard (the communications manager) presumedly used Haven’s social media to promote the Homes For All annual legislative launch, which of course includes his Bring it Home legislation.  

Haven Housing will likely benefit financially from hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing subsidies. They provide supportive services for the types of projects funded with these state grants.

In short, Mike Howard is working for a nonprofit that promotes lobbying efforts for legislation that he authors, and in turn could enrich his own employer, which in turn, could enrich him. As with Sen. Johnson Stewart, failing to disclose this is a clear violation of state law 10A.065:

Subdivision 1.Disclosure of potential conflicts.

(a) A public official or a local official elected to or appointed by a metropolitan governmental unit who in the discharge of official duties would be required to take an action or make a decision that would substantially affect the official’s financial interests or those of an associated business, unless the effect on the official is no greater than on other members of the official’s business classification, profession, or occupation, must take the following actions:

(1) prepare a written statement describing the matter requiring action or decision and the nature of the potential conflict of interest;

(2) deliver copies of the statement to the official’s immediate superior, if any; and

(3) if a member of the legislature or of the governing body of a metropolitan governmental unit, deliver a copy of the statement to the presiding officer of the body of service.

If a potential conflict of interest presents itself and there is insufficient time to comply with clauses (1) to (3), the public or local official must orally inform the superior or the official body of service or committee of the body of the potential conflict.

(b) For purposes of this section, “financial interest” means any ownership or control in an asset that has the potential to produce a monetary return.

Unlike the Senate, the Minnesota House Rules do not address conflicts of interest, something that should be changed.

Time will tell if Rep. Howard joins Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart by announcing his conflicts of interest in housing finance legislation.