Much of this conflict-of-interest talk surrounding the decision by University of Minnesota regent Steve Sviggum to take a Republican Senate staff job has been a little general.
Just what regulations does the university think he might be violating? After all, Sviggum said the Board of Regents’ conflict-of-interest policy doesn’t list his job as one that’s prohibited.
In my original blog post, I listed two areas I thought might be sticky for him. But I later talked to Mark Rotenberg, the U’s general counsel, to get a better idea.
He told me:
“It’s certainly true that this particular employment as chief communications director and staff person for the Republican Senate Caucus is not covered in the language of the code of ethics. But some code provisions bear on the subject even if they don’t reference that particular job.”
He confirmed the two passages I thought might problematic in the regents’ draft conflict-of-interest policy:
Sect. 1, Subd. 2: Paramount interest. Regents bring to task their varied backgrounds and expertise, but are expected to put aside their parochial interests, keeping the welfare of the entire university, not just a particular constituency, at all times paramount.”
Sect. 5, Subd. 6: Employment-related conflict of interest. An employment-related conflict of interest exists whenever a Regent’s employment relationships may impair independence of judgment.
He also suggested that Sviggum might have problems dealing with this passage:
Sect. V Subd. 1: Recusal. Recusal shall mean noninvolvement of a Regent in any discussion of, and decision regarding, the relevant matter to ensure that the Regent’s independence of judgment is not compromised, that the public’s confidence in the integrity of the Board is preserved, and that the University’s public mission is protected.
It was hard to pin Rotenberg down on this last one, but my impression was that the frequency with which Sviggum would have to recuse himself — and not just on voting decisions — would make holding both jobs impractical.
“The U’s relationship with the legislature is quite complex. Planning the U’s strategy is an important function (of the Board of Regents). … If we’re in a room, and the regents and president are talking legislative strategy, is Sviggum’s job to go off and tell (his superiors) everything that we were talking about, or is his job to hold that confidential?”