DFL Gov. Mark Dayton says he won’t pass judgment on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority’s use of two luxury suites in the new Vikings stadium until an independent investigation is completed.
Dayton told reporters Thursday that he supports Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ plan to look into the matter. Nobles and some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about how the MSFA uses its 36 seats and who has taken advantage of the perk.
Nobles said earlier this week that he is making the investigation a priority and expects to have a report for legislators in January.
Dayton, who appointed three members of the MSFA board, said his own principle is that public funds should be used for legitimate public purposes.
“They say they’re using it for marketing and for soliciting additional business for the stadium,” Dayton said. “I don’t know the facts of that. I’ll defer to the Legislative Auditor, and I’ll make comment when I know the facts.”
Dayton said he discussed the matter with the authority’s chair, Michele Kelm-Helgen, and expressed his concern. He declined to elaborate on the conversation.
The MFSA has cited laws allowing it to withhold the names of its suite guests. But some DFL insiders, including members of Dayton’s cabinet and staff, wrote checks to cover their suite use after the Star Tribune begin asking about it.
While the public entity’s suite use at the $1 billion stadium has caused a commotion, a similar arrangement was in place for the Metrodome. In 2014, after the MSFA reached a use agreement with the Vikings for the new building that included designated suites, it supplied details about suite use at the Dome in response to a public records request.
Those partially redacted documents included memos and emails detailing how the tickets to Vikings games and other events would be divvied up. Some correspondence had charts identifying suite guests. One email notes how a Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission member — as the body was called then — was providing suite tickets to a friend as a wedding gift.
Commissioners also had to come up with $150 to cover suite concessions — beer, wine, popcorn and other snacks.
Meanwhile Thursday, A leading House Republican called on the MSFA to immediately stop using the two stadium suites.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said there are too many questions about who has used the seats and whether any ethics laws were breached.
“We are calling for the MSFA board and executive staff to suspend the use of the suites starting with tonight’s game,” Scott said.
Scott, who chairs the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee, said the tickets should be donated to charities or youth sports associations.
The GOP lawmaker is also planning to introduce legislation next year to increase transparency and accountability for the MSFA.
A spokesperson for the authority said Wednesday that Kelm-Helgen, MSFA CEO Ted Mondale and commissioner Bill McCarthy would attend Thursday’s game along with undisclosed representatives of a number of groups including: a tourism and convention center group, an educational institution, a concert promoter, a minority contracting group, a job training and outreach group, and an NCAA operations group.
“The MSFA is not suspending our marketing efforts,” an authority statement said. “This evening, the MSFA is hosting a number marketing prospects and active clients in the MSFA suites as we continue to do our job.”
The statement denied suggestions the MSFA was trying to hide something by keeping the names of game attendees private.
Brian Bakst contributed to this report.