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Lobbyist suing McNamara in dispute over parks funding

A lobbyist is suing state Rep. Denny McNamara for defamation after a confrontation sparked by a fight over parks funding.

Maryann Campo, a lobbyist for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, said McNamara “has been slandering me” by falsely accusing her of threatening his son’s tree nursery business. McNamara believes Campo made that “very serious threat” against his family, which he says has kept him up at night. He has stood by his comments and is now facing a lawsuit.

“The Plaintiff is a professional lobbyist,” Campo’s attorney Carla Kjellberg writes in the complaint. “She depends on her reputation in the legislature for her living. This statement has caused irreparable financial harm to the Plaintiff and threatened her ongoing ability to continue in her profession.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, McNamara declined to comment. The Hastings Republican is in his seventh term and chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

The Ramsey County District Court lawsuit demands at least $50,000 in restitution. Campo said she had asked McNamara to stop repeating the claim before filing the lawsuit but is now “inclined to go through with damages.”

This is the latest twist in a dispute that has embroiled multiple legislators and led to at least one ethics complaint.

The dispute actually began with another lawmaker, state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who was supporting McNamara in a dispute over funding for North Mississippi Regional Park.

“I was approached in a Capitol corridor by Maryann Campo,” Hausman testified at a June hearing. “She said, ‘I don’t know why we would buy trees from (McNamara’s) son’s business any more.’”

Hausman later relayed that alleged comment to McNamara.

Campo said she never made that remark, nor any remark that could have been misinterpreted to mean that.

“It is absolutely false,” Campo said Tuesday. “I never said that or anything like that.”

The parks board has been a big customer of Hoffman & McNamara, the nursery run by McNamara’s son. Since 2010, it has paid Hoffman & McNamara $417,116 for 2,538 trees. The most recent sale was an $81,147.80 purchase of 412 trees approved in March of this year.

From 2010 to 2015, Hoffman & McNamara has received 14.5 percent of the money spent by the parks board on tree purchases, behind two other nurseries.

When the parks board purchases trees, as it does every spring, it puts out a list of desired trees and solicits bids from area nurseries. Justin Long, the parks board’s assistant superintendent for environmental stewardship, said the bids are analyzed with company names removed and that the low bid is almost always accepted.

Campo said she discussed the North Minneapolis park funding with Hausman in January, and in May. Shortly after that May discussion, McNamara shouted at another parks board lobbyist and DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis.

At the time, McNamara said he planned to file an ethics complaint against Campo for allegedly making the comment about his son’s nursery business. Campo said that to her knowledge she has not been targeted with a complaint.

Kahn said she had “never felt so threatened and domineered by a fellow legislator” and filed an ethics complaint against McNamara, which was dismissed last month.

Campo isn’t suing Hausman “at this point,” she said Tuesday. She said she focused on McNamara because he has publicized the allegation in the media.

Asked for comment Tuesday, Hausman referred to her June testimony.

“A lawsuit is a whole different level,” she said. “I’m almost cautious about commenting now.”

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