ST. PAUL, Minn. — A former staffer in Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson's office said he was tasked with recruiting and pressuring her employees to help burnish her political ambitions, raising questions just days before she faces voters in a three-way Democratic primary for governor.
D'Andre Norman told the online news site The Intercept that he spent years finding and encouraging mostly young employees in the attorney general's office to volunteer on Swanson's behalf at political conventions, suggesting their professional careers would benefit as a result.
Norman said he was brought on to Swanson's staff shortly after she won office in 2006, assuming a title of "consumer analyst," but focusing almost solely on rounding up young staff members to help Swanson politically. He said Swanson's aim for the governor's office was apparent from the beginning.
"Any time Lori needed someone to do any staffing at her events, or meet people at conventions or fundraisers, or anything that was all politically related, she relied on me," he said. "It was a lot of people's first job out of college, and we took advantage of that."
Norman worked for Swanson until 2014 — by then a "consumer dispute resolution mediator," according to state data — when he was fired amid a car insurance fraud claim that was subsequently dismissed. State payroll data shows Norman's rising career path before that — his salary increased from $40,900 to $62,300 from 2011 to 2014.
Asking state employees to work on campaigns is legal, but Minnesota law bans officials from using their "authority or influence" to incentivize it.
Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, disputed Norman's account, maintaining that official employees were never required to undertake or rewarded for performing political tasks.
"Mr. Norman was never authorized to 'pressure staffers' to engage in political work or to engage in political activities while 'on the clock' for the State," Wogsland said. He said any employees who performed political tasks for Swanson volunteered to do so on their own personal time.
Norman's account comes days after The Intercept published accounts from several unidentified former staff members from the attorney general's office who said they felt pressured to help Swanson's political career. Wogsland dismissed the site's reporting as retribution for Swanson's lawsuits against health care giant Accretive Health and others over allegedly abusive tactics in collecting patient fees and mishandling patient data, saying Accretive has ties to The Intercept's wealthy founder.
"The Intercept's stories are nothing more than payback for Attorney General Swanson doing her job," Wogsland said in a statement.
Swanson entered the race for Minnesota governor just a day ahead of the state's filing deadline, ditching her quest for a fourth term as attorney general. She's run largely as a more moderate Democrat compared to U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and longtime state Rep. Erin Murphy, spending little time on public appearances and instead focusing her time and campaign cash on statewide advertising.
Swanson's campaigns — past and present — have traditionally spent little money on campaign staff. Despite spending more than $660,000 between her June 4 launch and July 23, her campaign did not pay a dollar in staff payroll.
Campaign spokeswoman Ruth Stanoch told The Associated Press that Swanson's campaign is staffed entirely by volunteers — old friends and allies who jumped at the chance to put her in the governor's office. Instead, Swanson's campaign has focused its spending on advertising, including a recent attack ad that highlighted Walz missing more than 60 percent of votes in Congress this year.
"I don't think you can compare us to the other campaigns because there is no comparison. You've got 10 weeks," she said earlier this week.
A second former employee in the attorney general's office backed up Norman's portrayal of the connections between Swanson's office and her political rise. Thomas Olsen told the Intercept he was asked by a different employee to volunteer at a campaign event soon after getting hired in 2014.
"It's not like if you did campaign work, you'd automatically be promoted," he added. "But they were so obviously correlated to everyone who worked there."