Former DFL Senate minority leader becomes chief lobbyist for U, making $250K

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune file/Star Tribune/TNS

Former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen started a new job as the University of Minnesota's chief lobbyist on Monday, less than a year after leaving public office. The role will pay her $250,000 per year.

The U shared López Franzen's salary with the Star Tribune on Monday in response to a public records request. She is now the U's executive director of government and community relations.

"My first day at the University of Minnesota has reaffirmed what a great asset it is to our state. I am eager to bring my experience in the private and public sectors to build strong relationships with our partners at all levels of government," López Franzen said in a statement Monday.

Her salary was first reported by the Minnesota Reformer.

She served three terms in the Legislature before deciding not to run for re-election last year. As Senate minority leader, López Franzen earned up to $67,550.

State lawmakers who've quickly transitioned from public official to paid lobbyist have come under scrutiny over the years. Critics say the transition can give organizations special access to elected officials and a better chance at influencing legislation.

The Minnesota House prohibits its members from registering as lobbyists "within one year from the date they leave office." It's unclear how the House would enforce the rule against former members, however.

The Senate doesn't have such a rule.

In addition to her quarter-million-dollar salary, López Franzen will also receive the "same standard benefits and retirement contributions as all other members in the Professional and Administrative (P&A) employee classification," according to the U.

Interim U President Jeff Ettinger praised López Franzen as a "knowledgeable and dynamic leader," in a statement announcing her hiring. By comparison, Ettinger is being paid $400,000 for his anticipated one-year tenure.

"Engaging with local, state and federal officials is core to our operations and absolutely necessary to delivering the world-class education, groundbreaking research and broad community outreach that our state and leaders rightfully expect from us," Ettinger said in a statement Monday. "Melisa will be at the forefront of putting this into action as our Government and Community Relations leader."