Keith Ellison is entering his second term, seeking more funding and focusing on civilian tools to fight crime

Attorney General Keith Ellison is on the verge of what he calls a big, early victory in his second term, with the DFL majority legislature pushing to give him money he’s long sought to hire more lawyers for law enforcement.

“We’re shifting gears,” Ellison said in a recent interview. “We’re going in the same direction, but we’re going there faster and more efficiently.”

So far, he’s on a smoother path than his first term, which was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and a GOP-controlled Senate that rejected his requests for additional funding.

He barely survived a tough re-election campaign. Heading into 2022, Ellison was considered the most vulnerable DFLer on the statewide ticket. Republican challenger Jim Schultz strenuously accused Ellison of supporting Minneapolis’ failed ballot initiative to transform the police department and of not doing enough to fight crime or stop the $250 million “Feeding Our Future” pandemic scam.

Ellison was a criminal defense attorney prior to taking office and has focused his political career primarily on economic justice. Announcing his re-election campaign in November 2021, he said “the fight for a fair economy is still ongoing,” and he was trying to champion the issue of helping Minnesotans “make their living” when Schultz called him attacked for crimes.

Ellison said the anticipated new funding would immediately bolster its crime-fighting capabilities. The bill would send an additional $269,000 to the attorney general’s office this year and add $4 million over the next two years.

“The fact that we’re going to get some money immediately sends a strong signal that majorities in the House and Senate want to make sure Minnesotans get justice or consumer protection,” he said. “This is a rare, very important signal.”

The money would allow Ellison to immediately hire two criminal attorneys and one paralegal, with an additional five attorneys and two paralegals joining in the next biennium beginning in July. The new hires would work alongside three existing criminal defense attorneys who are dedicated to assisting prosecutors with criminal prosecutions. Ellison has repeatedly cautioned lawmakers during the campaign and more recently that his office can only take on most criminal cases at the request of those district attorneys.

Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul and a sponsor of the bill said the money will allow Ellison’s office to take on dozens more cases each year and expand into prosecutions beyond homicides, meaning it could help with other violent crimes and white collar crimes in multiple counties.

“Minnesotans have consistently told us that the safety of their families and of their communities is their number one priority,” she said.

In several committees, Republicans pushed back, offering amendments to require the bureau to provide data on law enforcement and how the money was used. But the DFLers held them back.

Ellison’s office has a combined annual budget of $44 million and a staff of 352, including 153 attorneys. By comparison, during Attorney General Skip Humphrey’s last year in office in 1998, he employed 510 people, about half of whom were attorneys.

Even with the new money, Ellison said his office won’t stray far from a civil law focus. “We’re not changing the fundamentals of this office,” Ellison said.

Ellison said he is developing a suite of civil law crime-fighting tools. He has used harassment laws to prosecute a troubled liquor store in north Minneapolis. He sued Fleet Farm for allegedly selling to straw gun buyers and joined the multi-state lawsuit that netted millions from opioid manufacturers.

He wants to strengthen enforcement work on wage theft, antitrust issues and human trafficking. “We’re kind of accelerating, we’re doing more than before because we’re getting more help,” he said.

The belief review unit he launched in 2021 with two-year funding also received grant to continue. “It’s an important signal that our criminal justice system will never stop trying to find out what really happened and then act accordingly,” he said.

On another front, he’s holding public meetings across the state this month about the proposed mega-merger between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services. Last week he called for a slowdown, saying the March 31 deadline was too early.

When asked what he learned from the Feeding Our Future fraud case, Ellison said he could have communicated better, but he did what he was supposed to do by reporting concerns to the US Department of Agriculture, going to court and submitted them to the Department of Justice.

“I’ve never had anyone without a political ax say, ‘Here you should have… done something differently.’ he said. “I didn’t see it. I mean, I just heard people say maybe you could have acted quicker or why did it take so long? I think, you know, look, investigations take so long.” how they last.”

He also said it wasn’t over yet: “We’re continuing to investigate and file lawsuits.”

Ellison, who became the first Muslim elected to Congress and served 12 years in the US House of Representatives before taking his current job, has recovered enough from the fall campaign to be eligible for a third term or a run for another state office envisages. He has expressed interest in running for governor or the US Senate if a seat becomes available.

“I’ll be 63 when this term ends, and that’s way too young to retire,” he said.