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Feds dismiss foreign campaign contribution allegations against ND politicians

GRAND FORKS -- The Federal Election Commission has dismissed allegations against North Dakota Republican leaders and a political action committee over foreign campaign contributions that were refunded after Grand Forks Democrats filed a complaint.

GRAND FORKS -- The Federal Election Commission has dismissed allegations against North Dakota Republican leaders and a political action committee over foreign campaign contributions that were refunded after Grand Forks Democrats filed a complaint.

The commission reviewed allegations that Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Grand Forks state Sen. Lonnie Laffen received contributions from Canadian businessman Leo Ledohowski in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which bars foreign nationals from making financial donations in connection with federal, state or local elections. Ledohowski is executive chairman of the Winnipeg hotel chain Canad Inns, which has a location in Grand Forks.

In February notifications to Dalrymple and Laffen, the commission said it appeared the contributions from Ledohowski "violated the prohibition on contributions by foreign nationals under the act and commission regulations." Dalrymple accepted $2,500 in 2012, while Laffen received $1,000 in 2010 and $1,945.42 in 2014, according to the complaint.


'Inadvertent'

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Both notices note that Dalrymple and Laffen "relied on guidance provided by a state government office that was ultimately incorrect," an apparent reference to the North Dakota Secretary of State's office. They also state that both officials refunded the contributions from Ledohowski last year, shortly after being notified of the complaints.

"Based on the available information, it appears that the violations may have been inadvertent in nature," both notices state. "In light of the fact that the illegal contributions were refunded within the 30-day time period required by commission regulations, further enforcement resources are not warranted in this matter."

Similarly, the ND Oil PAC, the campaign finance arm of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, accepted $500 from Dean Potter, who is a Canadian citizen, in 2014. The PAC ultimately refunded the donation, and the FEC again said further enforcement was "not warranted."

The complaint was filed in April 2015 by Daniel Hinnenkamp, treasurer of the District 43 Democratic-NPL Party. The commission voted in December to dismiss the allegations, according to records on the FEC's website.

"It's too bad the whole incident had to be referred to the FEC, that the people running those persons' campaigns didn't follow the rules in the first place," Hinnenkamp said. "But I'm glad that it's been taken care of."

Dalrymple, who took over as North Dakota governor in 2010, is not seeking re-election this year. Laffen most recently won re-election in 2014 to represent Grand Forks' District 43.

Other complaint, reaction

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The FEC found no violations related to another contribution included in the complaint, however.

Dalrymple received a $1,000 contribution from John Pfeffer, who has a London mailing address, in October 2012. Dalrymple responded that he believed Pfeffer was a U.S. citizen, given that the original contribution check shows a Tennessee address.

Pfeffer also confirmed that he is a U.S. citizen, and the FEC said the contribution did not violate federal law.

Al Jaeger, the Republican North Dakota Secretary of State, said last week they will "continue researching the matter to determine whether legislation should be considered in the next session to include the (prohibition) to match the federal rules." He said the FEC made "the right decision in both cases based on the facts."

Laffen reiterated last week that he had checked with the Secretary of State's office, which had said the contributions wouldn't be prohibited under state law. Laffen said he returned the contributions "because we didn't want any issues."

Dalrymple's spokesman, Jeff Zent, said in a brief email the FEC's decision "was the expected outcome."

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