The five-person Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority was created to control and operate the Vikings’ new stadium on behalf of taxpayers, who coughed up half a billion dollars to build it. But it turns out that the MSFA members, along with other public officials, are being well taken care of by the team.
The MSFA members, appointed by the governor and Minneapolis’s mayor, receive the use of two luxury suites that sell for between $200,000 and $300,000 at the recently opened stadium, as well as free food and sometimes parking, according to a Star Tribune investigation. The appointees often give tickets to the suites to friends and family, and dubiously argue that use of the two suites is necessary for “marketing purposes.” A number of elected and other public officials only paid for their suite tickets after the Star Tribune began investigating.
Minnesota and Minneapolis taxpayers shelled out nearly $500 million in bonds for the new stadium, which they will be paying back for the next 28 years. The MSFA was created by the Minnesota Legislature to operate the stadium, and negotiated with the Vikings to control two luxury Norsemen Suites on the 20-yard line, which seat 18 people each. MSFA execs say there are no problems with giving out tickets to these suites to friends and family:
[MSFA Chairwoman Michele] Kelm-Helgen and [MSFA CEO Ted] Mondale said they work long hours on game days and spent long nights negotiating on behalf of taxpayers during construction of the building, so having friends and family there is reasonable. They also say they need to be in the suites to sell the stadium to clients. “The whole idea is to develop the confidence that we know what we’re doing,” Kelm-Helgen said.
MFSA members claim there’s nothing wrong with that they’re doing, yet remain less than forthcoming about their dealings. They won’t say who has attended games in the suites, because “if people think they’re going to be in the newspaper, it’s not going to be effective,” according to Mondale.
Minnesota has a gift ban for public officials, and hundreds of dollars worth of tickets, food, and booze clearly isn’t a perk available to the public. But public officials are allowed “access to services and privileges when they are part of their duties,” according to the Star Tribune, and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s spokesperson Linden Zakula told the paper the stadium is a “public entity” and officials attending games in the suites are engaged in “public business.” Coincidentally, Zakula attended at least one game in the suite, and recently paid $200 for the ticket to “avoid the appearance of impropriety” while doing something he argued is perfectly legal and above board.
Zakula isn’t the only one to hastily pay for their ticket after the Star Tribune began investigating. The paper got a list of the 12 current or former public officials who paid for their ticket—but not of the public officials who didn’t pay—and the only one to pay for their ticket of their own volition before the paper began asking questions was former United States Vice President Walter Mondale, and the father of MFSA CEO Ted Mondale:
After the Star Tribune made a request through Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, Mondale and Kelm-Helgen provided the names of 12 current and former public officials who attended and paid for suite tickets to NFL games. All but one, former Vice President Walter Mondale, paid for the tickets recently. Mondale, who attended the opening Green Bay Packers game Sept. 18 as a guest of his son, wrote a $350 check that was deposited late last month. No other checks were deposited until Nov. 17, after the Star Tribune began inquiring about the seats.
Among the guests in the suites who reimbursed the MSFA $200 this month were: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and her husband, Gary Cunningham; several state commissioners; Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal and her husband, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans; and Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey.
In defense of all of the public officials utilizing the suites, it’s hard work scaring up half a billion dollars in taxpayer money to pay for a stadium for the billionaire owners of the Vikings, who committed civil fraud and racketeering and were ordered to pay $85 million for their “organized crime-type” activity. The least these officials deserve for selling out their constituents is an afternoon of free football, food, and drink.
Correction: While guests in the suites, including elected officials, do receive complimentary booze, it isn’t paid for by taxpayers, but by the MSFA commissioners.