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The Czars Of Influence in St. Paul

With Republicans infiltrating blue-state territory for the Republican National Convention, many of Washington’s most senior powerbrokers will be headed to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the first time.

That’s because Minneapolis-St. Paul has never attracted large national law firms or lobby shops. Instead, many of the country’s Fortune 500 companies based there rely on a small number of longtime lobbyists to represent them in front of the state legislature.

Like Washington, many of the state’s most senior lobbyists have taken the revolving-door route working from inside the state legislature or governor’s office before pounding the pavement for clients.

Those relationships have become even more important since the state introduced a strict gift ban in the mid-1990s. Often referred to as the “you can’t even buy a lawmaker a cup of coffee rule” (unless of course it’s at a fundraising event), the ban has benefited lobbyists who already have long-term relationships with state lawmakers.

Minnesota companies don’t outsource all of their lobbying work. Many of the companies have also bulked up their in-house operations at the state level.

One of the go-to lobbyists for companies facing major issues before the state legislature has been Richard Forschler of Faegre & Benson. Forschler represents large hometown companies such as Wells Fargo & Co., IBM, Target Corp. and the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.

While Forschler does some federal lobbying work, his portfolio mainly is limited to working with the Minnesota Congressional delegation. And he’s had a key role in working on legislation that authorized the new Twins baseball stadium and other sporting facilities such as the Xcel Energy Center and the Target Center.

Coming from the Upper Midwest, Forschler says the firm also does quite a bit of agriculture work. Faegre & Benson is one of the lead sponsors of AgNight, which is being put on by the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council.

“We had to pick and choose,” Forschler said of the sponsorship and also the firm’s contribution to the host committee. “the view in Minnesota is this kind of event can give us a lot of exposure.”

Forschler isn’t the only lobbyist getting in on the convention action. While much of Minnesota’s lobbying core trends Democratic, that hasn’t stopped longtime state lobbyists such as Ted Grindal of Lockridge Grindal Nauen from getting in on the GOP action.

Grindal, a Democrat who represents clients such as Microsoft Corp. and John Deere before the state legislature, has been advising them for months about where to get involved with the convention.

“We’ve had a lot of our clients solicit corporate support, getting advice from us about what level and how can they be engaged,” Grindal said. “Two angles are getting played. Most folks are supporting [Republican Sen. Norm] Coleman and [Gov. Tim] Pawlenty as well as doing a lot fundraising packages.”

Still, other Minnesota über-lobbyists such as Larry Redmond are taking a less active role in convention planning. Redmond, of Redmond Associates, has been a key player at the legislature since 1977.

His firm, which specializes in representing financial institutions, also is well-known for handling nonprofits and professional sporting issues. The firm also represents the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota legislature has been blue since 1972. Redmond, like many of his contemporaries, is a Democrat.

“The lobbying core in Minnesota is pretty even-steven,” said Redmond, of the split among Republicans and Democrats. “Some of us have been around longer, so it’s a little disproportionate.”

Hired guns aren’t the only power brokers in a state that boasts 19 Fortune 500 companies.

In fact, companies such as Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy have beefed up their in-house operations, counting on the likes of Rick Evans, who served as chief of staff to then-Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.). Evans heads up the company’s three-person state lobbying team, which also means overseeing about half a dozen contract firms.

Evans has focused on renewable energy, in particular wind and solar energy. Additionally, Xcel keeps a closer eye toward any legislation relating to carbon emissions and anything having to do with cap-and-trade issues, he says.

The CEOs of the companies also have their own trade association, the Minnesota Business Partnership, which is well-known for pushing their concerns at the state legislature.

Started in 1977, the group today includes more than 110 member companies. Headed by Charlie Weavers, former Minnesota state Representative and Pawlenty’s first chief of staff, the trade group lobbies on work-force issues.

Weaver, a longtime political operative in Republican circles, was instrumental in helping the Republican National Convention get organized on the ground and making introductions for Maria Cino, the president and CEO of the Republican National Convention, with local business leaders.

Unlike Colorado, where Patton Boggs and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck both have outposts, there aren’t any Washington-based law firms that are big players in Minnesota.

“Most of the lobbying is homegrown,” Weaver said. “You don’t see some of the big national lobbying firms unless it’s the occasional big issue like Big Tobacco or Big Alcohol. … Maybe it’s just the populist notion of the state where local lobbyists have pounded lawn signs for legislators, donated to them, walked in the parades, and have been with them at their offices.”

One exception to that rule is former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.). Weber, who heads Clark & Weinstock, does not lobby at the state level, but he has used his Minnesota connections to score clients, which have included Minnesota-based companies such as HealthSouth Corp. and Xcel.

Weber has been involved in the conventions, setting up his own convention- planning firm, Twin Cities Strategies, along with his brother Joe Weber and longtime Minnesota GOP operative Jack Meeks.

They aren’t the only lobbyists cashing in on the increased business surrounding the conventions.

Chris Georgacas of Goff & Howard is also helping do public affairs work for the St. Paul Police Department and the city of St. Paul. Georgacas, who grew up in Minnesota politics, first in the college Republicans and later as a Minnesota GOP party chairman in the 1990s, says the firm helped the clients put together a comprehensive communications plan and has advised the Republican host committee as well.

Many Republicans who aren’t specifically involved in convention activities are still planning on sticking around to do some politicking.

“I’ll be doing a little glad-handing,” said Cindy Jepson, Republican founder of Capitol Resource. “I’m sure a lot of state legislators will be there. It’s a good opportunity to be seen and do some informal discussions on issues that will be coming up.”