Plain Talk: Lawmaker involved in AG's office space scandal rips auditor for 'gotcha audit'

"I think we have a trust issue with the state auditor's office," state Rep. Jason Dockter, a Republican, said on this episode of Plain Talk.

Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, presents a bill to the House Finance and Taxation Committee on Jan. 6.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — A controversial decision to move departments of North Dakota's Attorney General's Office to a new building started with an informal discussion between a state lawmaker and the director of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

An audit report has found multiple red flags in that transaction, from questions about billing to licensing to whether the taxpayers really came out on top in the deal.

Now the lawmaker who made the deal in the first place, state Rep. Jason Dockter, a Republican from Bismarck, is blasting the auditor's office for what he says was an incomplete and inaccurate report.

"I think we have a trust issue with the state auditor's office," Dockter said on this episode of Plain Talk, referring to the report auditor Josh Gallion presented to lawmakers last month as a "gotcha audit."

Dockter repeatedly made references to controversial audit reports of the State Library and the Commerce Department which drew criticism for Gallion.


Still, Dockter admits there are reasons for raised eyebrows on this deal.

For one, the more than 800-page report (see below) his attorney sent to state officials and the news media in response to the audit indicates that the "informal conversation" between Dockter and an official from the Attorney General's office happened in the state capitol building during the legislative session in which Dockter was serving.

"I have to make a living," Dockter said when asked if he felt it was appropriate for a lawmaker to do business that way. He also downplayed the access to state government that being an elected legislator gives him, saying that he often does business with people he knows personally. "I'm a lifelong resident of Bismarck," he said.

Another red flag was the nearly $250,000 in overpayments made by the State of North Dakota to Dockter's companies. Dockter, who admits that this was not a typical way of doing business, now says his companies will reimburse the taxpayers for those payments, which he said were based on estimates that came in too high.

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Asked if what he would do differently if he could go back to the beginning of this deal, he said he would ensure that the invoicing from his companies to the state was less confusing.

He also said he was open to legislation that would require that lawmakers recuse themselves from votes that impact their private business dealings. "I have no problem" with that sort of legislation, he said.

Also on this episode, Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I discuss our predictions for next week's midterm elections. Will ballot measures implementing term limits and legal marijuana pass or fail? Can independent candidates Rick Becker and Cara Mund win in the Senate and House races, respectively? Listen to find out our thoughts.

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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