Lawmaker's job with St. Paul mayor raises ethics questions

St. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A state representative who works for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is under fire over what some have called a potential conflict of interest because she wrote a bill to fund his proposal for a college savings plan for newborns.

Democratic Rep. Kaohly Vang Her was already Carter’s policy director when she was elected to the House in 2018. She authored a bill last session to provide matching grant funds to St. Paul for $50 college savings accounts for every child born in the city in 2020 and 2021, one of Carter’s top priorities.

Because Carter is Her’s boss, he could show favor — or withhold it — based on what she might accomplish as a legislator, Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, told the Star Tribune for a story published Tuesday..

But Her defended her advocacy of the savings plan. It’s no different, she said, than other legislators — farmers, teachers, doctors and business people — promoting favorite causes.

“There is no conflict (of interest). In both jobs, my job is to advocate for the constituents of St. Paul,” Her said. “Why not have a person who knows and who cares about these issues work on the legislation that addresses them?”

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who studies ethics in politics, said the case highlights a complex web of issues.

“What happens if what the mayor wants is not (the best thing) for her constituents?” Levinson said. “Would she stand up to him, if her job and livelihood depend on keeping the mayor happy?”