Good morning, and welcome to Thursday. Here’s the Digest.
1. In Minneapolis, Pence promotes tax cut. Vice President Mike Pence took the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center Wednesday morning to promote the federal tax overhaul, praise the American military and whip up support for his boss. “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald Trump,” Pence told a cheering crowd. “Thanks to all the good people of Minnesota for … all you’ve done to stand with our administration.” He said the past year has been a year of “promises made and promises kept.” Speaking for about half an hour, he praised Minnesota Republicans who had preceded him on the platform, including U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis. He thanked Paulsen for helping pass the Trump agenda, “and we couldn’t be more grateful.” He also lauded Lewis and Emmer, noting that Emmer was helping efforts to “protect and explore” precious metals deposits in Minnesota. (MPR News)
2. What’s the group behind Pence’s visit? ‘America First Policies’ has been organizing and paying for each event on Pence’s tax tour. The group is organized as a non-profit with a focus on promoting social welfare. Unlike political action committees and campaigns, it is not required to report who gives it money and how much they give. It is prohibited from coordinating with politicians or political parties, but campaign finance watchdogs says it’s unquestionably a political arm of the Trump White House. “America First Policies is a group that is very closely tied to the White House, stacked with former campaign or White House officials,” said Brendan Fischer, who follows America First Policies at the non-profit, non-partisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington. The biggest problem he has with the group is that no one will ever know who’s bankrolling it, raising questions about who may be buying influence with the White House. “We don’t know where any of this money is coming from. We don’t even know if America First Policies is funded by foreign interests — all of their donors are kept secret and, given the close relationship between the White House and this group, that presents very concerning problems for democracy and transparency.” Fischer acknowledged the irony that the people funding the effort to promote the new tax law are likely among those who benefit the most from it. (MPR News)
3. Former FBI agent charged with leaking document. A former Minneapolis FBI agent has been charged after allegedly leaking secret documents to a national news reporter, according to federal criminal charges filed in Minnesota this week. The charges, filed by prosecutors for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, are the first to come in Minnesota since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad crackdown on government leaks last year. Terry J. Albury is accused of unlawfully disclosing and retaining national defense information. He is accused of sharing a document on assessing confidential human sources — otherwise referred to as informants — and a document “relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country” with a reporter for a national media organization. The charges do not name the reporter or news organization but do specify that Albury allegedly possessed and shared the information between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — the same date that the Intercept published an entry to its “FBI’s Secret Rules” series on how the bureau assesses potential informants. The report drew upon a secret document obtained by the Intercept that shared the same publication date described in the charges against Albury. (Star Tribune)
4. Dayton threatens veto of pipeline bill. Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he’ll veto a bill to authorize a replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota if the Legislature tries to preempt the normal state approval process. Enbridge Energy is planning to replace the line that runs from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Minnesota regulators have been reviewing the proposed Line 3 replacement since 2015. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is slated to decide on it in June. But a bill heading to the Minnesota House floor would bypass the PUC and grant that approval in law. Dayton said going around the regulatory process is unacceptable. “This one is just ridiculous. I mean just to say say the Legislature is going to just take it over, and Enbridge can do whatever they want and it’s approved? That doesn’t take us back to the 20th century, that takes us back to the 19th century.” The bill cleared the House Job Growth and Energy Committee Tuesday. Its sponsor, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said his constituents in northwest Minnesota want the pipeline built. “And this project will create many much needed jobs and economic activity, and not only will it create jobs but it’s going to sustain a lot of jobs up there and economic activity in northern Minnesota.” (MPR News)
5. Lawmakers consider letting voters decide on dedicating more tax money to transportation. When you rent a car or get a tune-up or buy some new spark plugs, the money you pay in state sales taxes goes into the general treasury. Lawmakers divvy it up when they craft a two-year state budget just like most other taxes. But a push is on to dedicate the proceeds instead to new highway lanes, pothole filling and bridge repairs. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, says the Minnesota Constitution needs to be amended to tie the sales taxes to transportation needs. His bill would put the question to voters this fall. It involves the use of hundreds of millions of dollars per year on top of gas tax money which is already dedicated to transportation. And unlike every other piece of legislation, a ballot measure doesn’t need the governor’s signature. So Republicans are in the driver’s seat. But that doesn’t mean they’re traveling together on this one. While the debate has begun in the Senate, a bill has yet to emerge in the House. (MPR News)