Four years ago today, Doug Burgum was criss-crossing North Dakota in a motor home with “Burgum for Governor” in big letters on the side, running against Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the Republican primary election just a few weeks hence.
His campaign theme: Get rid of the “Good Old Boys” network in Bismarck. In what was generally viewed as a huge upset in North Dakota politics, Burgum won. I posted a blog the day after the election with the headline “What The Hell Just Happened?”
Whether the Good Old Boys network is gone is open for speculation, but one thing’s for sure: There’s a lot of Good New Boys at work in North Dakota politics, and it’s a new day, with big money, in North Dakota elections.
I wrote here last week about the involvement of an independent political action committee called Dakota Leadership PAC, with close ties to the North Dakota governor, in the District 8 race for the North Dakota Legislature. That district, which includes McLean County and most of rural Burleigh County, dumped on its longtime representative, Jeff Delzer, in favor of a couple newcomers David Andahl and Dave Nehring, and their campaign is being supported by Burgum’s PAC.
Turns out there’s a lot more to report.
This past Friday was the day political candidates and committees had to file their Pre-Primary Campaign Financial Disclosure Statements with the North Dakota Secretary of State. Al Jaeger didn’t miss much of a beat making them available to the public. And my, are they interesting.
To start with, the Dakota Leadership PAC reported contributions of more than $400,000 in the month of April. It looks like that is the first month it was raising money for this year’s elections. The figure is a bit misleading, since Burgum himself contributed almost half of that, writing a check for $195,000 Thursday, the day before the filing deadline.
But a lot of big checks got written to the PAC in April. Some examples:
- •Miles White, Chicago, executive chairman of Abbot Laboratories, a huge pharmaceutical company, $50,000.
- •Lauris Molbert, a Fargo lawyer and business partner of Burgum, $10,000.
- •James Chafoulias, a Minneapolis businessman, whose ties to North Dakota I’m unsure of, $25,000.
- •Ron Bergan, Fargo businessman, $10,000.
- •Brad Freeman, Fargo native and Stanford buddy of Burgum who’s now a Los Angeles businessman and political activist, $25,000.
- •Robert Challey, North Dakota State University graduate, California real estate developer, $10,000.
- •Brett Itterman, a Fargo restauranteur (Taco John’s franchisee), $10,000.
- •Susan McNealy, wife of tech entrepreneur Scott McNealy, Las Vegas, $10,000.
- •David O’Hara, a former Burgum business partner at Microsoft, $10,000.
There were more, names I don’t know, and a couple of family members, writing checks for $5,000 or $10,000. I haven’t figured out how they are spending it other than the anecdotal evidence I reported last week in District 8, but they’re obviously a force to be reckoned with in this year’s North Dakota campaigns. And it’s pretty obvious Burgum is not going to be bashful about sharing info on who he supports in this year’s legislative and statewide races.
But the District 8 race is the most interesting because it involves the powerful Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Delzer, and if it doesn’t work, and Delzer emerges from the primary, there could be repercussions for Burgum in next year’s legislative session.
Nehring and Andahl, Delzer’s two opponents endorsed by the District 8 Republicans, have raised a little themselves. They’ve both received $5,000 checks from a couple of East Coast right-wing money men, Travis Anderson from New Jersey and Howard Rich from Philadelphia. I don’t know their connection to North Dakota, but both give hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly conservative and Libertarian causes and candidates around the country. Somehow it’s hard to understand Jeff Delzer being the victim of conservative groups, but that’s what’s going on. Here’s Nehring’s report. And Andahl’s.
Delzer’s not doing so badly himself, though. His report shows he’s raised more than $28,000, a whole bunch for a legislative primary campaign. That includes two checks for $8,000 each. That’s an interesting story, told to me by someone who knows what is going on.
Prior to their convention, the District 8 Republicans had about $24,000 in their treasury in preparation for the 2020 campaign. In his post as Appropriations Committee chairman, Delzer was probably responsible for raising a lot of that, although the other two incumbents, Sen. Howard Anderson and Rep. Vernon Laning were no slouches.
I’m not exactly sure of the timing here, but at some point, the district officers decided to give each of their legislators a third of that, $8,000 each, reasoning it was their money, it had been raised for their campaigns.
On convention night, Nehring and Andahl stacked the convention and swiped the nominations, but they didn’t take over the party apparatus. So now, even though they were the endorsed candidates, there was no money in the district treasury for their House races. Laning had already declared he wasn’t running again, so he decided to give his $8,000 to his buddy Delzer. Anderson’s $8,000 apparently is still in the bank.
Nehring and Andahl were endorsed by the District 8 Republican Party on March 10. Delzer’s report shows he received an $8,000 check from the District 8 Republican Party the next day, March 11. It also shows that a week later he got an $8,000 check from Laning.
There are probably more details here that I am not aware of, and I assume all that was legal. Laning hasn’t filed a report with the Secretary of State because he is not a candidate. Anderson filed a report but didn’t list any contributions.
But Burgum has jumped in to rescue Nehring and Andahl. In addition to the mailings I wrote about last week, they’re running some pretty slick television spots, in a pretty heavy rotation on Bismarck TV stations, and doing some newspaper ads as well.
We’ll know the outcome of all this in about three weeks. It should be pretty interesting.
Right now, I have to go plant tomatoes.
NOTE: This story has been updated May 12 to tell the story of the District 8 Republicans finances.