PSC candidate says he'll refuse industry moneyBISMARCK (AP) — The Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s Public Service Commission said Wednesday he will refuse campaign donations from companies the agency regulates, as well as executives who work for the businesses themselves.
By: Dale Wetzel, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK (AP) — The Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s Public Service Commission said Wednesday he will refuse campaign donations from companies the agency regulates, as well as executives who work for the businesses themselves.
Brad Crabtree said accepting money from companies and associations who are directly affected by the agency’s decisions undermines public confidence in its work.
“Public service commissioners, as regulators, need to be held to a higher standard than, say, a state legislator or even a state official who is elected,” Crabtree said.
“In the regulatory process, the perception of independence, of impartiality, is as important as the reality of it,” said Crabtree, who has been critical of the incumbent Republican commissioners’ practice of taking campaign contributions from companies they regulate.
He said he intends to restrict his own campaign donations even if his Republican opponent, Hazen state Sen. Randy Christmann, does not.
Christmann said Wednesday he would not go along with Crabtree’s proposal. Supporters’ money has not influenced his decisions in the Legislature, and it would not on the Public Service Commission, he said.
Crabtree’s proposal would still allow him to take contributions he would not otherwise accept if they are first given to the North Dakota Democratic Party or another non-industry group sympathetic to him, Christmann said.
The restrictions, Christmann said, would bar him from accepting campaign support from “hard-working North Dakotans who believe, as I do, that we need to keep our economy moving, and leave a strong economy for the next generation as well.”
The Public Service Commission has three Republican members — Chairman Tony Clark and Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk.
Crabtree and Christmann are running to succeed Clark, who is not seeking re-election. Cramer and Kalk are competing for the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. House this fall.
The PSC regulates electric and natural gas utility rates, makes siting decisions for pipelines, coal mines, power plants and wind farms, licenses grain elevators and auctioneers, and oversees the reclamation of former lignite mines in western North Dakota’s coal country.
Crabtree’s statement Wednesday comes three weeks after two environmental organizations, the Dakota Resources Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, gave notice they intend to sue Kalk and Cramer for alleged conflicts of interest.
The groups object to campaign contributions the two men have accepted from the owner of Great Northern Power Development of Houston. A company subsidiary is developing a new coal mine in southwestern North Dakota.
Environmental groups and some neighbors of the project want the commission to deny the application. A decision is pending.
Crabtree said he did not put similar restrictions on his first PSC campaign two years ago, when he unsuccessfully opposed Cramer’s re-election bid. He said doing so would have caused him to refuse between $5,000 and $10,000 in donations.
Crabtree raised more than $201,000 for his 2010 campaign, while Cramer reported almost $175,000 in contributions, state disclosure filings show.
Among Crabtree’s largest donors were North Dakota’s Democratic Party, which provided $70,000 to Crabtree’s PSC campaign, and then-U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chipped in $10,000 from his own campaign fund.
Crabtree advertised his campaign contribution limits Wednesday as a “pledge of independence,” which he said will include monthly reporting of his political donations on his own website. North Dakota law doesn’t require frequent reporting of campaign contributions.
Crabtree’s self-imposed restrictions would apply to contributions from organizations that often favor Democrats, including rural electric cooperative political action committees and executives.
The rules would also bar him from taking campaign donations from auctioneers, which the commission licenses.
The commission often serves in a judge-like role in ruling on requests from industries the agency regulates, Crabtree said. He compared the commissioners’ acceptance of campaign donations from industries they regulate to judges taking contributions from participants in his own cases.
“Because there’s no public policy requiring our commissioners to do right, and our commissioners are not disciplining themselves,” Crabtree said, “we are seeing a gradual erosion in the integrity of the Public Service Commission.”