Questions about transparency abound after it was revealed that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has a second email address that may shield him from public records requests.
Records requests submitted by Senate Republicans, MPR and nonprofits like Public Record Media have not resulted in the publication of any email to or from the governor’s newly-discovered account: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walz’s office, however, has denied that the use of this second email address shields him from transparency measures. His office told the Minnesota Reformer that his primary email address (email@example.com) is not used for official business and that messages sent to that account will receive an automated reply. Alpha News reached out to this account and received no reply, automated or otherwise.
“The Governor has one state email address, it is secure and we have always searched that account in response to data requests for email to and from the governor. In accordance with public records law, we have shared tens of thousands of pages of communications from our office, including emails to and from the Governor’s account, and will continue to do so,” spokeswoman Claire Lancaster told local media, apparently referencing the second “Mankato” account throughout her statement.
In August, MPR revealed that it couldn’t obtain a single email from the governor after the outlet made a request.
“The documents provided to MPR News contain few examples of Walz weighing in himself, and only then through the assessments of key aides recalling conversations with him,” MPR reported. “Despite a request for any emails, text messages or other communication directly sent by the governor, none were released.”
Emails from Walz are notably absent in a large trove of documents published by Senate Republicans last year relating to the governor’s ban on youth sports. This data request produced emails between top state officials like Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and the governor’s chief of staff, but none from the governor himself.
Walz’s emails are also missing from a joint report based on data requests submitted by the Senate Transportation and Judiciary and Public Safety Committees.
State Rep. Mary Franson reports that she has had no luck obtaining a single email from the governor as part of a data request — “and I’ve done many,” Franson told Alpha News.
As of right now, there is no publicly available “verification” that what the governor’s spokesperson says is true, that correspondence from Walz’s second email address has been made available via data requests, suggested Matt Ehling, executive director of Public Record Media (PRM).
“The verification would be if anyone has had email produced [from this account]” by a data request, he explained to Alpha News.
PRM learned of the governor’s second email months ago from a whistleblower and specifically requested data from that account in May. They have not heard back but followed up on the request this week. The state now says that it will get back to PRM in two to four weeks about that request, according to Ehling.
If fulfilled, Ehling’s request will reveal “all e-mail correspondence … by the Governor of Minnesota related to public safety activities that occurred after the death of George Floyd for a two week period beginning after May 25, 2020.” It should also produce Walz’s emails from the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout the Derek Chauvin trial.
“I believe we are the first ones to do it,” Ehling said. To his knowledge, nobody has ever made a data request explicitly seeking emails from the governor’s second email because they couldn’t have known to do so.
“Outside of the executive branch, I believe we’re the first ones to come across [this email address],” he added. “I’ve made several calls on this but nobody else seems to have been aware of it.”
Ehling also confirmed what others say, that nobody he knows has publicly revealed an email from Walz’s second account obtained by a data request.
Meanwhile, Doug Seaton of the Upper Midwest Law Center said a legal challenge may be in order. Seaton told Alpha News that he’s “suspicious,” explaining that the governor’s second account may “represent an effort to dodge the requirements of the Data Practices Act.”
“We think it’s quite possible that we can get at this,” Seaton predicted. “We will be following up on it and looking for parties who might be interested in pursuing this.”
Some have pointed out that it makes sense for the governor to use an email address that doesn’t follow the state’s standard first name-last name formula, since that account likely receives an unworkable number of emails.
Seaton said that while this is logical, it “doesn’t mean that this [second] email account … can be excluded from the application of the Data Practices Act.”
Right now questions remain: Have emails sent from Gov. Walz’s second account ever been disclosed as part of a data practices request? Why has the state not yet replied to PRM’s May data request that specifically names the account?
Walz’s second email address was published in a statement released Wednesday by Rep. Peggy Scott. PRM alluded to it first, but redacted the exact address.
“The Governor is not above the law,” Scott said. “As chief executive of our state, the Governor has a duty to be transparent and open with Minnesotans.”