Dayton hires former Campaign Finance Chair to run Trade Office

Gov. Dayton has hired the person who managed the finances for his gubernatorial campaign to head the Minnesota Trade Office. Some Republicans are raising questions about the hire because Dayton repeatedly called for eliminating the office when he was campaigning for governor. Dayton appointed Katie Clark, who worked for Target Corporation and National Wind, to run the agency. She was his campaign finance director last year.

GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he didn’t want to question Clark’s credentials but did ask whether Dayton should have hired someone who played such a big role in his campaign.

“If it makes you kind of cringe when you talk about it, that’s maybe a pretty good standard that it’s not something to do,” Zellers said. “It’s just the process that makes you uncomfortable.”

It isn’t unusual for elected officials to hire their campaign staff when they take office. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty hired several people who either worked for him or backed his campaign. He also hired many of his GOP colleagues from the Minnesota House. But the importance the economy, and trade in general, are playing in politics right now highlights the importance of the position.

In an interview with MPR News, Dayton defended the hire. He said he had deep concerns over how the Minnesota Trade Office has languished over the past 10 years. He said Clark will improve how the office is run.

“She was a team leader at Target Corporation, and she’s going to provide the kind of professional, private sector initiative on behalf of the Trade Office that has been lacking. I was critical of the Trade Office based on my two terms as Economic Development Commissioner.”

Dayton, who has said he thinks increased trade is one of the keys to improving the state’s economy, added that he was even more concerned about how the office was run when he met with a Chinese delegation that recently visited Minnesota. He said he’s instructing the commissioners of the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Department of Agriculture to work with Clark to improve the agency.

As for his earlier call to close the Trade Office, Dayton says it’s not his top priority right now.

“I’m right now focused on larger matters before the state, but that may well be part of a reorganization of state government proposal that I’ll submit to the Legislature.”

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who chairs the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, said he’s not prepared to comment on Clark’s qualifications but he said he’ll be watching very closely to see how Dayton handles the office.

“I don’t think it’s clear where candidate Dayton and now Gov. Dayton wants to go with the Trade Office. I think it’s an important matter,” Michel said. “I think who staffs a Trade Office and even if there should be a Trade Office is an important matter for us to consider.”

Michel says he intends to keep tabs on how Dayton handles the future of the Trade Office. But he’ll have little say regarding Dayton’s decision to hire Clark since she does not have to be confirmed.

Clark’s salary is $90,828.

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