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E-mail may have placed Hutchinson senator into ethics probe

ST. PAUL -- A state senator from Hutchinson could face an ethics investigation for an e-mail his office sent refusing to meet with organizations that supported his opponent in last fall's election -- even if they're constituents in his district.

Three Senate DFL'ers made a formal request Thursday that the ethics subcommittee begin an investigation into allegations concerning the conduct of Republican Sen. Scott Newman.

Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said the comp-laint was fr-ivolous and "politically motivated."

At issue is an e-mail Newman's le-gislative as-sistant sent last week to the Minnesota Nurses Association that was trying to arrange a meeting between Newman and a member of the association who lives in Newman's District 18.

The e-mail said Newman "will not see any organizations that donated to/supported his opponent Hal Kimball."

It went on to say that the Minnesota Nurses Association had donated to Kimball's campaign and concluded, "Your association will be unable to schedule an appointment with Senator Newman."

That action may have violated Senate Rule 56.3, according to a letter sent Thursday to Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, asking for the investigation. Fischbach chairs the Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct.

"Nobody should feel like they need to pay a toll to gain access to their elected representative," said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, one of the members requesting an ethics investigation.

Equating access "based upon who may have made a legal contribution in an election contest" or party affiliation, membership or issue preference is improper conduct for a senator, according to a letter sent to Fischbach and signed by Pappas and fellow Democratic Sens. Scott Dibble and Kenneth Kelash.

The senators said the ethics committee should interview Newman and his assistant to determine "who ordered the implementation of this policy."

Newman is reported to have said the e-mail was a mistake made by his assistant.

In a news release Thursday, Sutton said Newman's staffer "made a mistake for which the senator accepted responsibility."

Sutton said the complaint against Newman is "politically motivated" and "obviously frivolous."

Pappas said that requesting an ethics hearing is "a very serious matter, and we spent considerable time reviewing the facts and public comments made by Sen. Newman."

She said there are "many questions regarding this incident, and we hope that a complete and full investigation by the Senate ethics subcommittee will provide Minnesotans with some much needed answers."

The subcommittee has up to 30 days to meet and consider the complaint.

Newman was elected to the District 18 seat that had been held for many years by Steve Dille of Dassel. Dille did not seek re-election.