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North Dakota Gov. Burgum once again making hefty political donations

After spending more than $3.2 million on political donations during the 2020 election cycle, campaign finance records filed last week indicate Republican Gov. Doug Burgum is making moves to be a major political donor again in 2022.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum delivers the State of the State address at the Chester Fritz Auditorium in Grand Forks in January 2020.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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BISMARCK — During the 2020 election cycle, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum gave more than $3.2 million of his personal fortune to a secretive political committee that spent heavily to support candidates who aligned with him and to oppose those who didn’t.

Campaign finance records filed last week indicate Burgum is making moves to be a major political donor again in 2022.

The former tech mogul recently gave $935,000 to the Dakota Leadership PAC, a committee that spent nearly $3.5 million on political advertising in 2020.

Levi Bachmeier, Dakota Leadership PAC’s chairman, wrote in a statement to Forum News Service that the committee is grateful for Burgum's continued donations.

"Our mission remains to elect conservative Republicans who share the governor’s vision to strengthen North Dakota's economy," Bachmeier said.

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In response to Forum News Service's voicemail seeking comment about the governor's donations, Burgum's campaign spokesperson Dawson Schefter emailed the following statement:

"The governor has been an active donor to Republican candidates and causes for years and strongly supports the mission of Dakota Leadership PAC," Schefter said.

Calculations made using the filings reveal that the committee has spent $232,000 this year, but Dakota Leadership PAC’s designation as a “multicandidate committee” means it does not legally have to report exactly how or where it spends money.

Bachmeier and Schefter did not immediately respond to a detailed list of questions from Forum News Service about Burgum's donations, including what political campaigns Burgum's funds will be put toward, if any.

In 2020 Dakota Leadership PAC's name appeared on widely distributed political mailers and multimedia ads. Many of the ads promoted Burgum-aligned campaigns, like former state Rep. Thomas Beadle’s successful run for state treasurer.

However, some ads took shots at Burgum’s conservative political adversaries. Most notably, the group targeted powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, in his race against two Burgum-backed Republican challengers, David Andahl and Dave Nehring. Delzer lost to Andahl and Nehring in the GOP primary, but Andahl died of COVID-19 before he could begin serving in the Legislature and local Republicans reappointed Delzer to fill the vacancy.

Photo: Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-Underwood) John Hageman photo
North Dakota Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer chairs a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol on March 14, 2019.
Forum News Service file photo

Leading GOP lawmakers said at the time that Burgum’s financing of attack ads aimed at fellow Republicans amounted to an improper interference in legislative races by the state's executive branch.

Though Burgum has denied having a strained relationship with the Republican-held Legislature, lawmakers have said the governor’s seven-figure campaign spending in 2020 drove a wedge between the two branches.

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House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, told Forum News Service on Monday, May 16, that Burgum's political donations create tension between the executive and legislative branches, making "it tougher for the two to get along during a session."

"I would hope that people don't use the contributions to fulfill the governor's agenda," Pollert said. "It should be the legislator's agenda that they're concerned about."

There is no state law prohibiting a public officeholder from making campaign contributions, but Rep. Jeff Magrum, a Hazelton Republican targeted by the Dakota Leadership PAC, sponsored an unsuccessful bill last year to bar North Dakota governors from making political contributions in legislative races.

Citing a likely increase in required paperwork, lawmakers also killed legislation that would have required political committees like Dakota Leadership PAC to disclose which campaigns they have supported or opposed with donations.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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