Dorgan’s fund a worry for GOPSen. Byron Dorgan has a $4 million campaign fund, no re-election plans and few restrictions on his ability to give money to other North Dakota Democrats, which is making Republicans nervous.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Sen. Byron Dorgan has a $4 million campaign fund, no re-election plans and few restrictions on his ability to give money to other North Dakota Democrats, which is making Republicans nervous.
Dorgan could use the money to finance his party’s efforts to identify sympathetic voters and get them to the polls, and provide generous campaign stakes to Democratic candidates. North Dakota law does not limit contributions to state political parties, officeholders or candidates for the Legislature.
Dorgan, who announced Jan. 5 that he would not run for his fourth Senate term, said this week he did not yet know how much money would be available or what he would do with his leftover campaign cash.
“We are now talking to the (Federal Election Commission) with respect to the requirements,” Dorgan said. “We have not made any decisions about any use of campaign funds.”
Federal law requires that Dorgan refund some money to contributors, and he is barred from keeping it for personal use. But Dorgan has wide latitude in deciding how to spend the rest.
He could donate it to charity, transfer it to Democratic political committees or donate it to federal, state or local candidates, said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney and federal election law expert at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C.
Or, Dorgan could manage his campaign fund to continue his influence on state politics long after he leaves office, said Gary Emineth, the North Dakota Republican chairman.
“He can, in a sense, become way more powerful than the whole party structure,” Emineth said Wednesday. “He can do a lot to influence policy long after he’s gone ... It’s hard to fight that kind of money.”
Dorgan’s war chest is much larger than the financial support North Dakota’s Democratic or Republican parties normally receive in a year. North Dakota’s Democratic Party raised $2.15 million during 2008, the last election year, while Republicans raised just more than $780,000.
Mark Schneider, chairman of North Dakota’s Democratic Party, said Dorgan still will be responsible for paying bills and campaign staff salaries from his leftover money. Senate colleagues who are facing tough re-election campaigns also are likely to get a share, Schneider said.
He added that the Republican-controlled North Dakota Legislature has defeated a number of Democratic proposals to restrict contributions and require better disclosures of campaign donations and spending.
“We think that the voters of North Dakota will find it highly ironic and more than a little amusing that the Republicans are complaining about the potential impact of Sen. Dorgan’s campaign funds,” Schneider said.
Dorgan’s supporters were limited to donating $2,400 for any primary election campaign, and another $2,400 for the general election.
The two pots of money are kept separate, and Ryan said Dorgan will have to refund money designated for the general election. Dorgan said Tuesday he did not know how many of his contributions would have to be returned to donors.
Should Dorgan use part of his fund to contribute to fellow senators’ campaigns, he would be restricted by donation limits to federal candidates. However, Dorgan’s support of state or legislative candidates would be limited only by North Dakota law, Ryan said.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger said the law does not limit contributions to candidates, and does not even forbid donations from non-citizens or entities outside the United States.
Dorgan “could give to state candidates in any amount he wants. That doesn’t necessarily make me happy,” said Jaeger, a Republican who is running for re-election this fall. “He could really impact my race ... or anyone else’s.”
Five Republican state officeholders — Jaeger, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring — are up for election this fall. Cramer is expected to announce Thursday that he is running for the U.S. House.
Dorgan’s most recent Federal Election Commission disclosure filing reported $3.93 million in his campaign fund on Sept. 30. An updated report due Jan. 31 is expected to push his total above $4 million.
Dorgan also controls a separate political action committee, called the Great Plains Leadership Fund, which he has used to support North Dakota Democratic campaigns for state office and the Legislature. It had a $58,489 balance on June 30, according to its most recent FEC report.
The fund, along with PACs controlled by Dorgan’s North Dakota Democratic colleagues in Congress — Sen. Kent Conrad’s Dak PAC and Rep. Earl Pomeroy’s Nodak PAC — often have been one of the largest sources of support for Democratic hopefuls.
In 2008, the Great Plains Leadership Fund donated more than $50,000 to Democratic candidates, including $20,000 to governor candidate Tim Mathern and $5,000 each to the Democratic candidates for insurance commissioner, treasurer, public service commissioner and state auditor. All lost.
Wayne Sanstead, the incumbent superintendent of public instruction, also got $5,000 for his successful re-election campaign.