After Attacking Cramer as a “Scam Artist,” Turns Out Senator Heitkamp Has Also Paid Her Family With Campaign Cash

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is cheered on by delegates at her nomination for the Senate Saturday at the North Dakota Democratic convention. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

For months now North Dakota Democrats have been viciously attacking Congressman Kevin Cramer, challenger to incumbent Senate Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, for what they alleged is misuse of campaign funds.

The Democrats say Cramer has “pocketed” nearly $200,000 since 2013 (the campaign reimbursed the candidate for out-of-pocket expenses) and paid family members more than $140,000 (the bulk of that is Cramer’s wife’s employment as his campaign manager, the rest to family members for things like catering and video production).

“Kevin Cramer rails against the swamp, but he’s exactly the type of Washington politician who keeps it alive,” Scott McNeil, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic Party, said in a press release earlier this month which also ripped NDGOP state convention keynote speaker Ryan Zinke. “North Dakota deserves better than scam artists like Kevin Cramer and Ryan Zinke who swindle their campaign donors just to get ahead and make themselves even richer.”

What is surprising is that Democrats are attacking Kevin Cramer – calling him a “scam artist” and “crooked” – for something that’s so in-character for North Dakotans that their own candidate has been doing it too.

But if reimbursing yourself with campaign dollars, and hiring family to work on your campaign, are acts of a “scam artist” then Heitkamp is guilty of the same. I took a look at the incumbent’s FEC filings, and it turns out that Heitkamp has reimbursed herself $6,657 from her campaign from December 2011 through December 2017 (the candidate’s disclosure for the first quarter of 2018 isn’t yet available as I write this).

In addition to that, Heitkamp has paid family members over $10,000 from her campaign during that same time window. That’s not counting the money her campaign spends advertising on her brother’s Fargo-based radio show.

You can see the full spreadsheet of payments below, and browse the data yourself here.

Heitkamp’s payments to herself and her family aren’t as large as Cramer’s, but there are two explanations for that.

First, Cramer’s wife has worked as a member of campaign staff and been paid accordingly (albeit at a rate well below average) so that drove up the family reimbursement figure.

Second, look at Heitkamp’s payments to herself. The reimbursements stop, for the most part, after 2013. We know Heitkamp didn’t stop incurring campaign expenses. Her travel for fundraising and other campaign activities has been well documented throughout her first term in office. What changed is the way Heitkamp has paid for it. Instead of paying out of pocket for things like travel, and then getting a reimbursement from the campaign as Cramer has done, Heitkamp began to run the expenses through the campaign directly beginning in about 2014 it appears.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different sort of bookkeeping. And to be clear, I don’t see anything at all wrong with Heitkamp reimbursing herself for campaign expenses or even paying family members for services provided. Beyond the fact that all of these transactions, for both Cramer and Heitkamp, are perfectly reasonable in both amount and frequency there’s also something nice and quintessentially North Dakotan about a candidate’s family working on the campaign.

Our state has a long and long and proud history of families working together, from farm families working the land to entrepreneurs passing their businesses on to succeeding generations. It’s not at all surprising that politics here, too, would be a family affair.

What is surprising is that Democrats are attacking Kevin Cramer – calling him a “scam artist” and “crooked” – for something that’s so in-character for North Dakotans that their own candidate has been doing it too.

I reached out to the Heitkamp campaign for comment. They don’t typically respond to my requests, but I’ll certainly update the post with anything I receive back.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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