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ND Dem PSC candidate: Bribery law flouted

BISMARCK (AP) -- Two Republican public service commissioners are "flouting the spirit" of North Dakota's anti-bribery law by accepting campaign contributions from industries they regulate, a Democratic candidate for the board claims.

Democrat Brad Crabtree said Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk should not take part in future PSC cases involving companies from which they have taken campaign funds. He said those include Great Northern Power Development LP, which is developing a coal mine in southwestern North Dakota, and NextEra Energy Resources, which has built several wind power facilities in the state.

"I support wind energy. I support wind development," Crabtree said Thursday. "But I do not believe a public service commissioner should be taking checks from a wind developer."

Crabtree said he will not request a probe.

Kalk said Crabtree's suggestion was "ridiculous." His only reported contribution from NextEra is $3,000 received in December 2008, a month after he was first elected.

Cramer said Crabtree's donations are funneled through the state Democratic Party to conceal the origin of the money.

Cramer also said that Crabtree should file a complaint if he believes an investigation needs to happen.

"He's asking for the trust of the people, but he's not willing to turn in criminals that he knows are breaking the law? That's pretty pathetic, quite honestly," Cramer said.

Crabtree isn't running against either commissioner. He's facing Republican state Sen. Randy Christmann of Hazen, who is the GOP's assistant Senate majority leader. Board member Tony Clark resigned to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington.

Cramer is the North Dakota Republican candidate for the state's U.S. House seat this fall. He defeated Kalk in the June primary election.

At a news conference Thursday, Crabtree pointed to contributions made by NextEra Energy Resources executives and the political action committee of NextEra's predecessor company, FPL Energy.

Cramer received $4,800 in August 2010 from FPL Energy's PAC and two company executives, five months after he voted to approve a wind power development in central North Dakota and eight months before the PSC approved the siting of a power line to serve a separate wind energy project.

A NextEra spokesman did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

North Dakota's anti-bribery law states that a case is potentially valid if a public official in an administrative proceeding takes something of value, and the giver knows the official's judgment could be affected as a result. Public service commissioners conduct administrative proceedings.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, said it would be difficult to depict campaign contributions that were months apart as attempted bribes.

"I suspect most election commissions would not even try pressing for a bribery charge unless they had additional information," Holman said. "However, it does not pass the smell test."