Accusations Aimed At North Dakota Oil Regulators Have The Stink Of Partisan Politics

Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla) speaks to the 2016 North Dakota Democratic-NPL party state convention while accepting the party endorsement for governor. TOM STROMME/Tribune

Here’s some advice for this alleged whistle blower at the Department of Mineral Resources who is making accusations about destroyed records pertaining to oil transportation.

You may want to consider who you’re working with. Because given the cast of characters involved so far, this is starting to look like yet another election year political stunt from Democrats.

Last week gubernatorial candidate Marvin Nelson, accompanied by fringe Republican candidate Paul Sorum, got together for a press conference where they called for an audit of the Department of Mineral Resources, home to the state regulators who oversee North Dakota’s oil and gas development. They cited information they received from an unnamed whistle blower, represented by an unnamed attorney, as the genesis for their announcement.

This week we learn that another attorney, one Derrick Braaten of Bismarck, is demanding that the DMR cease any destruction of records, though he admits that he doesn’t know if that is actually happening.

…we have mysterious and unsubstantiated allegations about destroyed documents being made by an unnamed whistle blower represented by an unknown attorney who is getting an assist from a Democratic candidate for governor (with a fringe Republican candidate looped in for bipartisan cover, I’m sure) and a lawyer whose law firm is affiliated with another Democratic candidate for governor.

Braaten is no stranger to highly political election year maneuvering. He is best known in the state for being an activist lawyer fighting oil and coal development. His law firm was the one which filed an election year lawsuit against Public Service Commissioners Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer (who was running for the U.S. House that year) claiming that legal and disclosed campaign contributions they’d taken coal industry interests were illegal.

The lawsuit was tossed out of court. After election day, naturally, and after its political usefulness had waned. But Democrats used the presence of the lawsuit heavily in their political messaging against both Cramer and Kalk.

Oh, and Braaten’s law firm is known as Baumstark Braaten Law Partners. According to their website it was formerly known as Sarah Vogel Law Partners.

That would be the Sarah Vogel who was the Democrats’ candidate for governor until she pulled out in January.

So, in summary, we have mysterious and unsubstantiated allegations about destroyed documents being made by an unnamed whistle blower represented by an unknown attorney who is getting an assist from a Democratic candidate for governor (with a fringe Republican candidate looped in for bipartisan cover, I’m sure) and a lawyer whose law firm is affiliated with another Democratic candidate for governor.

If you’re starting to see a pattern here, I don’t blame you. Add into the mix that Wayne Stenehjem, who is one of the Republican candidates for governor, sits on the North Dakota Industrial Commission which oversees the DMR, and I think we’ve probably connected enough dots.

This begins to look less like a whistle blower situation than an attempt to manufacture scandal helpful to Democrats.

None of this is to say that that the accusations are necessarily untrue. If documents are being destroyed that in and of itself could be a crime under state law. One as serious as a felony, depending on the circumstances. And if those documents are being destroyed to cover up something more nefarious? Well, that’s a serious. It should be taken seriously.

But if I were a DMR employee agonizing over whether or not to go public with serious accusations the last thing I’d want is my actions to be colored by partisan politics.

Making these accusations in an election year, with political candidates and an activist lawyer leading the charge, it becomes difficult to see this in any other light.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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