How Minnesota government kept its Amazon bid secret

Minnesota has a well-deserved reputation for transparent government but it’s not beyond being sneaky and keeping its citizens in the dark when it comes to spending their money for private business.

The latest example is reported by Public Record Media which says state officials concealed their bid for Amazon’s second headquarters by having the bid submitted by a private business group instead.

Greater MSP, a business promotion group, is refusing to make the bid public, while state officials claim they can’t make it public because they don’t have it.

PRM says state data practices laws apply to Greater MSP because they extend to vendors doing business with the government. It receives funding — the group calls them “donations” from several public governments.

The investigative journalists note that this isn’t the first time a non-government group shielded secret deals from public inspection.

The State of Minnesota’s Amazon bid is not the only high-profile economic development proposal to be subject to secrecy measures. Four years ago, the state submitted its bid for hosting Super Bowl LII – a bid that ultimately secured the 2018 event for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In the case of the Super Bowl bid — as opposed to the recent Amazon proposal — the information was explicitly classified as “not public” by Minnesota law. The Data Practices Act permits “terms of rentals” for publicly operated convention centers like U.S. Bank Stadium to be kept from public access until after an event has been held. In July of 2014, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) told PRM that it would provide access to the Super Bowl bid document only “after the 2018 Super Bowl occurs.”

In June of 2014, a list of terms required of the state by the National Football League was published after it was leaked to the Star Tribune newspaper. The 153-page document showed that the NFL – among other things — wanted free police escorts for team owners, 35,000 free parking spaces, presidential suites at no cost in high-end hotels, free billboards across the Twin Cities, and even a requirement for NFL-preferred ATMs at the stadium.

An official on Minnesota’s Super Bowl host committee told the Star Tribune that the group had agreed to a majority of the conditions, but declined to elaborate.

The NFL also asked that neither the league, its affiliates, nor its member clubs “be subject to any state, county, city or other local taxes, including income, gross receipt, franchise, payroll, sales, use, admission, or occupancy taxes” as a result of holding the Super Bowl in the city.

The board chair of Greater MSP heads US Bank, and its members include officers from Health Partners, Cargill, Target, Ecolab, and Medtronic.