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Dems want review of foreign campaign contribution law: Lawmaker reported $2,000 from Canadian

BISMARCK — North Dakota Democratic lawmakers have requested an opinion from the North Dakota attorney general on whether federal laws and regulations prohibiting foreign campaign contributions apply to statewide, legislative and local candidates.

The request, which was delivered to the attorney general's office Tuesday, comes after it was revealed that state Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, reported a nearly $2,000 campaign contribution from a Canadian businessman last year. Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, and House Minority Leader Kent Onstad, D-Parshall, said they are not asking for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to "draw any factual conclusions with regard to that specific case."

While state law doesn't specifically prohibit foreign contributions, the Federal Election Campaign Act states that it's illegal for a foreign national to make a financial contribution in connection with a federal, state or local election, the opinion request states.

"We believe confusion regarding the interplay between federal and state law on the issue of campaign contributions made by foreign nationals is a matter of statewide significance considering the impact these dollars could have on North Dakota's relatively low-key and inexpensive elections," the legislators wrote.

Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, confirmed they have received the request but did not say whether Stenehjem would take it up.

Laffen said last week he checked with the Secretary of State's Office about the contribution from Canad Inns head Leo Ledohowski. Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday his office would review the Federal Election Commission rules to determine what may apply to state candidates.

"Consequently, going forward we will inform candidates in all of our material on any federal rules that might apply to them, too," he added in an email. Jaeger said Wednesday his plans haven't changed.

Schneider said it was good that Jaeger's office was double-checking the laws, but said an attorney general's opinion carries more weight.

"An AG's opinion essentially has the force of law in North Dakota until it's overturned by a court or an act of the Legislature," Schneider said. "I think this will just clear the air, and give everybody a clear understanding of what the law actually is."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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