The Minnesota State Lottery will not sponsor any fishing tournaments this year, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff said Thursday.
Dan McElroy said interim lottery director Michael Vekich plans to drop the Minnesota Pro/Am Bass Tour promotion. The lottery spent at least $65,000 a year over the past four summers to sponsor the fishing tournaments and solicited money from other sponsors on its behalf, according to lottery records.
Former lottery director George Andersen, who killed himself last month as state auditors prepared a report expected to be critical of his agency, was a strong supporter of the tournaments, arguing that people who fish also buy many lottery tickets. An avid bass fisherman himself, Andersen said the tour also was a good way to tout the environmental programs that are supported by the lottery proceeds.
But McElroy and others have criticized the lottery's relationship with the fishing tour and questioned the benefits the tournament provided the agency.
"Sometimes, when one loves to bass fish, you think it's good business," McElroy said. "The lottery will not be putting it into bass fishing. I'm not saying bass fishing is bad, but I wanted proof. Did we sell more tickets, did he meet more people?"
Expense reports for the past three years indicate that until last summer, when questions about the bass tour first surfaced, Andersen spent progressively more time and money representing the lottery at the fishing tournaments.
For example, the records show he spent four days participating in the tournaments in 2000, 18 days in 2001 and finally 30 in 2002. Last summer, that number dropped to eight days. Andersen billed the lottery for meals, mileage and lodging during those trips.
In addition, Andersen visited the headquarters of Ranger Boats, another fishing tournament sponsor, in Flippin, Ark., while en route to a lottery convention in Dallas in 2000, according to the expense reports.
McElroy also said Thursday he was disturbed by a report in the Pioneer Press that Andersen's son was employed by a company that was related to a public relations firm receiving lucrative contracts from the lottery.
Still, McElroy said that nothing he saw of Andersen's operation, nor anything that he has heard about the review due next week by the Legislative Auditor's office, indicated that Andersen did anything illegal. The governor can remove the lottery director for cause, but McElroy said he never threatened Andersen with his job.
"I didn't want to make that decision until after the audit," he said. "I hadn't made the decision. He was responding well. I'm not sure he would have lost his job. He was so strong in the marketing."
McElroy said he expects the Legislature this year to recommend changes to the statutes that created the lottery. He expects legislators will push for changes so the next director "will have more connections," to the Legislature or some other board with oversight, McElroy said.