DFL lobbyist got Walz admin job but may have continued private lobbying

Yet another high-level official in the administration of current Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has resigned under suspicious circumstances

Sarah Walker via MPR

Yet another high-level official in the administration of current Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has resigned under suspicious circumstances—Sarah Walker, the Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Corrections and a former DFL lobbyist.

Walz already has big problems at DHS

The Walker resignation comes at a time when the Walz administration is already under fire. 

Earlier this month, former Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Tony Lourey resigned after just six months on the job for unknown reasons, even prompting fire directed at the Walz administration from otherwise friendly newspapers. 

The Lourey resignation is a big deal. Human Services is by far the state’s biggest department, and spends one-third of the entire state budget, or $17.5 billion out of a total state budget of almost $50 billion.

One cause of the resignation may well be the widespread and unrectified fraud in the state’s childcare benefit program—a welfare program that pays for daycare—which has been almost completely ignored by Democratic state officials. The fraud in this program could be costing the state up to $100 million, and because it is concentrated among ethnically Somalian daycares with ties to terror-ridden Somalia, there is even a concern that this fraud could be aiding terrorism. 

Earlier this year, the DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham was put on leave for her failure to stop the fraud (though she’s pulled in over $40,000 since getting in trouble for not doing her job). This month, just before the Lourey resignation, two of Lourey’s top deputies at DHS resigned. Both of these deputies almost certainly played a role in ignoring the fraud—because they both served in the Dayton administration, and because one oversaw the childcare program (since 2016), while the other oversaw the DHS budget (since 2013).

Sarah Walker, DFL lobbyist

Now, another high-ranking Walz official—Sarah Walker, the now former Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Corrections (DOC)—has bitten the dust, again under suspicious circumstances. 

Thankfully, State Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake) is looking for answers.

But in a report on this story, the Star Tribune makes it sound like O’Neill, the Republican, prompted the resignation, when O’Neill is only attempting to figure out why the resignation occurred. The Strib then goes on to note what a good person Sarah Walker is. 

Walker may be a great person. But she is a prominent lobbyist who has represented private interests, and a DFL activist on issues including gun control, Black Lives Matter, and restoring voting rights to felons. 

And it is her career as a lobbyist, not her political activism, that is causing problems. Specifically, Sarah Walker is accused of continuing her lobbying work for private interests while she was on the government payroll. Quite obviously, that’s a corruption problem. And it shows the pitfalls of adding a DFL lobbyist, or any lobbyist—who is used to getting paid by people who want things from government—to an important position in government. 

Not only that, but it looks as if this is an inter-DFL feud, a point that goes completely unmentioned in the Strib’s “Republican’s pounce” version of events. 

Dave Orrick at the Pioneer Press unsurprisingly does a better job reporting than does the Strib: 

“Walker also accused state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, of instigating at least part of the investigation by making a complaint against her. Lesch unequivocally denied that.

“Her narrative is false,” Lesch said in a statement to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“A source within the Department of Corrections said the investigation was prompted internally.”

In other words, it was either a DFL politician that told on Walker, or other bureaucrats at the DFL-led DOC. 

But the real issue is whether Walz should be hiring lobbyists for top posts, especially when these former lobbyists may have an interest in giving state contracts and grants to the groups that they used to lobby for. In other words, yet again, this brings into question Walz’s judgement.


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Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.