Press Release

Attorney General Ellison: Executive order banning ‘pandemic profiteering’ will ‘help Minnesotans afford their lives’

AG worked closely with Governor to craft new executive order banning price-gouging on essential items during peacetime emergency

March 20, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his office worked closely with Governor Tim Walz to craft the Governor’s new executive order banning price-gouging on essential goods and services during the peacetime emergency. Attorney General Ellison said, “This purpose of the order is to stop pandemic profiteering and at a time of great uncertainty, help Minnesotans afford their lives.”

Attorney General Ellison, as a member of the Executive Council, voted to approve the executive order this afternoon. That approval gives the narrowly-tailored executive order the force of law for the duration of the peacetime emergency.

A dedicated price-gouging complaint form is now live on Attorney General Ellison’s website. The Attorney General’s Office has received 150 complaints about price-gouging in the past week, with the number growing daily. The most commonly complained-about items are water, rice, butter, toilet paper, bleach, masks, hand sanitizer, and allergy medication.

“I worked closely with the Governor to craft this executive order to ban pandemic profiteering on essential goods and services. We have the authority and duty under state law to take action to protect health and preserve lives. This order is a narrowly tailored to cover only goods that are essential during the emergency.

“We recognize that not every retailer who has raised prices these essential items since the start of the crisis has done so just to line their pockets. To them, I say: you’re protected. Any retailer who has had to do so because of factors out of their control is not covered by this order and is explicitly protected from its enforcement provisions.

“My hope is that we won’t have to use this power, or that we will only have to use it sparingly. The point isn’t to file a lawsuit. The point is for people to comply with the law to protect consumers. The point is to help people afford their lives in this emergency,” Attorney General Ellison concluded.

Details of the executive order

Executive Order 20-10, attached here, prohibits people from “selling, offering to sell, or causing to sell in this state any essential consumer goods or services for an amount that represents an unconscionably excessive price” for the duration of the peacetime emergency. Essential consumer goods or services are defined as: “goods or services vital and necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the public, including without limitation: food, water, fuel, gasoline, housing, shelter, transportation, health care goods and services, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and personal hygiene, sanitation, and cleaning goods.”

Under the order, a price increase is “unconscionably excessive” if it:

1. the amount charged for the good of service represents a gross disparity compared to the price charged on or after February 12, 2020 (30 days before declaration of peacetime emergency);
2. the amount charged is more than 20% greater than the price charged on or after February 12, 2020; or
3. the amount charged grossly exceeds the price for the same good or service in the area.

The order gives the Attorney General’s Office the authority to enforce its provisions. Penalties may include a fine of up to $10,000 per sale or transaction.