Did Gary Schiff do anything wrong?
Steve Minn, a former City Council member from the 13th Ward and now a developer in Minneapolis, owns property in Southeast that he would like to use to build high density housing. Gary Schiff chairs the Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council. Approval for his project would have to go through Schiff’s committee.
According to Minn: “Gary Schiff solicited campaign contributions from me just prior to our development matters going to Planning Commission. Mr. Schiff called me and indicated that he had serious challengers—including Amy Arcand and Mr. Bicking—and that he needed money—lots of it and fast, prior to Caucus night.
“I complied with the request, and ‘maxed-out’ at $300. Mr. Schiff then called back and asked me to solicit further ‘maximum’ contributions from my spouse, my partners Fred and John Wall—each of whom complied and maxed out at $300. So, our development group contributed $1,200 to Mr. Schiff’s campaign at his direct request.”
He further characterized the campaign solicitation: “Mr. Schiff expects the contributions. He solicts them directly, and refusal is tantamount to insult to someone who sits on both the Planning Commission and the Z & P Committee that hears appeals from the Planning Commission.”
Minn continues: “I charge Gary with willful solicitation of funds from those he has to render public decisions upon. Is that a crime? His direct solicitation efforts are untoward and distasteful, but legal. The implication is clear: ‘Pay because I review your applications...’ No one else at City Hall is that brazen.”
The fact that Schiff eventually voted against Minn’s proposal means there was no quid pro quo, but that may not protect Schiff from culpability. Dean Zimmermann was convicted and sent to prison for “accepting a gratuity.”
He accepted a campaign contribution from someone who had a development issue in his ward. He went to prison even though he voted against the developer’s issue when it came before the Council.
It seems the way the FBI reads the law is that any politician who accepts anything from someone having business before the City, no matter how they vote on a given issue, is accepting a “gratuity.” As the Zimmermann case proves, there doesn’t have to be a quid pro quo. The fact that someone gives you something and has business pending before the City is all it took to put Dean behind bars for over a year.
It’s long past time to change the campaign financing laws and make it illegal for any incumbent to take money from someone who has business before the City, if for no other reason than to protect politicians from themselves.