A sitting DFL legislator plans to continue serving in the Minnesota House despite just being named the new CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, which provides abortions to women in the Upper Midwest.
Rep. Ruth Richardson defended her new position in a statement Wednesday, saying she won’t “oversee political work or lobbying for Planned Parenthood while I hold this legislative seat.”
“In my time at the Minnesota House, I have served as CEO of a non-profit health center providing addiction, mental health, and medical services. Planned Parenthood North Central States is also a non-profit health center,” she said.
Republicans, however, believe the new role is a “clear conflict of interest.”
“While she claims that she won’t be doing any political work or lobbying if reelected, that rings hollow when she is quoted as saying ‘we have a lot of work to do’ in the story announcing her hire. Make no mistake, the work she’s referring to is a purely political, extremist agenda that includes radical priorities like defunding the police,” said Minnesota GOP communications director Nick Majerus.
Planned Parenthood of Minnesota is currently registered as a lobbying organization with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. Sarah Stoesz, the outgoing CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, is also registered as a lobbyist.
“She needs to decide what she wants to do — legislator or lobbyist. She can’t do both,” said Rep. Tim Miller, who is not seeking reelection and now serves as executive director of PLAM Action.
Miller was a co-author of a bill passed last year that prohibits sitting legislators from being employed by organizations or firms whose primary activity is legislative lobbying. The legislation was passed after House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a fellow Republican, took a public affairs position with a government relations firm based out of Virginia.
A spokesperson for the House GOP said in response that Daudt’s employer doesn’t conduct any lobbying or employ any registered lobbyists.
The problem is Minnesota law has too many loopholes and doesn’t consistently define what constitutes a lobbyist, Miller said.
“Legislators in Minnesota do things that would be considered lobbying in other states. We passed a law that says if you’re doing ‘this’ behavior, it constitutes lobbying,” he said.
He said Richardson needs to be held accountable for the clear conflict of interest.
“That’s the problem in Minnesota. We don’t hold people accountable for breaking the law. She needs to be challenged. Unless you’re held accountable, you can do it,” he said.
Richardson has served in the Minnesota House for four years and previously worked as the CEO of Wayside Recovery Center.
“Minnesota has a citizen-led legislature. It it is made up of educators, farmers, physicians, nurses, real estate agents, insurance professionals and many other professions. And we are fortunate for their expertise and perspectives,” Richardson said. “The legislature has clear processes to avoid conflicts of interest, which all members are expected to follow.”
In a video statement, Richardson said Planned Parenthood was a “lifeline” for her and gave her an opportunity to “live her life.” She said she is committed to “health equity” and “reproductive justice.”
Planned Parenthood recently announced that it would be spending a record $50 million nationally on the midterm elections.
“Their agenda is clear,” Miller said. “Planned Parenthood seeks to advance abortion in the state of Minnesota.”
This article was updated with a comment from the House GOP’s spokesperson.
Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.