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Gov. Burgum bankrolls effort to unseat North Dakota GOP lawmakers, including top budget writer

A political committee funded by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has paid for an advertising blitz in support of candidates trying to unseat incumbent Republican lawmakers, including House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer.

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North Dakota Rep. Bill Tveit, R-Hazen, said he has recently received 18 political mailers in support of his Republican challengers, Mark Pierce and Anna Novak. The mailers were paid for by Dakota Leadership PAC, a secretive political committee funded entirely by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.
Photo provided by Bill Tveit
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BISMARCK — In the lead-up to the June primary election, a secretive political committee entirely funded by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is flooding two Bismarck area legislative districts with advertisements in an attempt to beat out endorsed Republican candidates.

Forum News Service reported this week that Burgum, a former tech mogul, recently gave $935,000 to the Dakota Leadership PAC. In 2020, Burgum bankrolled the committee's extensive political advertising campaigns with more than $3.2 million of his personal fortune.

The group's latest advertising blitz targets legislative seats sought by several incumbent Republican lawmakers, including powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood.

Hazen Republican Rep. Bill Tveit, who is running for reelection as a team with Delzer, told Forum News Service he has so far received 18 Dakota Leadership PAC mailers in support of Republican challengers Anna Novak and Mark Pierce, who lost the local GOP endorsement to Tveit and Delzer.

None of the ads have attacked the incumbents' political records or characters, but Tveit said he expects the committee to go negative in the near future.

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Photo: Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-Underwood) John Hageman photo
North Dakota Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer chairs a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol in March 2019.
Forum News Service file photo

Two years ago, Dakota Leadership PAC made an aggressive push to unseat Delzer in his race against two Burgum-backed Republican challengers, David Andahl and Dave Nehring. Delzer lost to Andahl and Nehring in the GOP primary, but Andahl died of COVID-19 before he could begin serving in the Legislature and local Republicans appointed Delzer to fill the vacancy.

Delzer, who declined to comment when reached by Forum News Service, has frequently clashed with Burgum on state spending matters.

Calculations made using recent campaign finance filings reveal the committee has spent at least $232,000 this year, but Dakota Leadership PAC’s designation as a “multicandidate committee” means it does not legally have to report exactly how or where it spends money.

Burgum declined an interview with Forum News Service through a spokesman. Dakota Leadership PAC Chairman Levi Bachmeier did not respond to questions about the committee's political advertising campaigns.

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Gov. Doug Burgum at the State of the State address on Feb. 16, 2022, at the Fargo Theatre.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Rep. Jeff Magrum, a Hazelton Republican running for Senate, confirmed the committee has targeted his race by supporting Nehring, who is also attempting a move to the upper chamber. Magrum won the local GOP endorsement over Nehring.

Tveit said Burgum's heavy financial support for unendorsed Republicans is an improper attempt to hand-pick his own Legislature and override the wishes of local conservatives.

The lawmaker added that Burgum is trying to run the state like a CEO who "answers to no one" instead of a governor who respects the separation of powers between the different branches of government.

Magrum sponsored a bill last year to bar North Dakota governors from making political contributions in legislative races but later withdrew the proposal. Magrum told Forum News Service on Thursday, May 19, he pulled the bill because some of his colleagues said they feared political retribution by Burgum if they voted in support of the legislation.

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North Dakota Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The Hazelton lawmaker said he expected to be in Dakota Leadership's crosshairs this year, but he still believes the governor's political spending against endorsed Republicans is "disingenuous" and "an affront to the whole party process."

Both Tveit and Magrum said they are counting on voters to recognize their highly conservative records as lawmakers and to reject Burgum's effort to influence electoral outcomes.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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