Port: Burgum's political spending isn't a big deal, but it should be transparent

For all the Sturm und Drang from lawmakers over Burgum supposedly violating the "separation of powers" by meddling in legislative races, they couldn't muster enough votes to even put some reporting requirements on committees like Burgum during their session last year.

Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to state agency leaders about budget requests at the North Dakota Capitol on May 5, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum is spending big to influence North Dakota's legislative races again.

In the 2020 cycle, Burgum put more than $3.2 million into his Dakota Leadership PAC to support candidates he favored (mostly in the legislature), and oppose some he didn't. Now he's doing it again. Our Jeremy Turley reported this week that Burgum has dropped $935,000 into this political committee .

But because Burgum and his people designated this entity as a multi-candidate committee, how that committee spends its money doesn't need to be disclosed.

Contributions are available for public scrutiny — so far, per disclosures , Burgum's contribution is the only one this committee has received — but not the spending.

That should change.


Interestingly, the Legislature tried to change it, and they failed.

For all the Sturm und Drang from lawmakers over Burgum supposedly violating the "separation of powers" by meddling in legislative races, they couldn't muster enough votes to even put some reporting requirements on committees like Burgum during their session last year.

House Bill 1191 , introduced by Rep. Bill Devlin, a Republican, failed in the Senate on a 12-35 vote.

If our congressional delegation isn't paying attention to the Jan. 6 committee, if they're dismissive of its revelations, then they are derelict in their duties to our state, and our country.

Another bill motivated by Burgum's political spending would have made it illegal for the governor to "make contributions, directly or indirectly, to a candidate for an office of a member of the legislative assembly." That language was amended out of HB 1256 . Apparently, its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Magrum, a Republican and member of the Bastiat Caucus, forgot about a little thing called the First Amendment.

There's nothing wrong with spending money to influence political outcomes. Most of us can't spend like Burgum, but that's a question of scale, not propriety.

Nobody should be prohibited from spending their own money to support or oppose candidates, but we should make that sort of thing far more transparent than it is, and not because crybaby politicians like Magrum don't like being criticized.

Devlin's bill would have required committees like Burgum's to disclose expenditures over $200, but there's no reason why we can't go further than that.

Why not require that every penny raised and spent be disclosed?


And while we're at it, why not require more frequent disclosures?

Our state has only two campaign finance disclosure deadlines during the election year: One about a month before the June primary, and the other about a month before the November general election.

Closer to the election days, there is a requirement that larger donations be reported within 48 hours.

But that's it.

Why couldn't we require that all revenue and all spending be disclosed at the end of every week by every committee, be they for a candidate or ballot measure or some independent interest?

The argument is typically some variation of "this would be too costly" or "too burdensome" for those required to do the filing.

The answer to that complaint is "no it's not."

We live in a digital age.


Spreadsheets are things that exist.

If the candidates and interests running these committees can't figure out how to use one, maybe they don't need to participate.

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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