Burgum's Case Against Stenehjem's Taxpayer-Funded Travel Seems Underwhelming

Wayne Stenehjem during a debate with Doug Burgum at Avalon Events Center in Fargo on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Rick Abbott / The Forum
stenehjemfakenewspaper

A Doug Burgum campaign mailer masquerading as a newspaper included accusations that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem had spent too much on out of state travel and had inappropriate relationships with lobbyists.

Late last week a reader sent me a mailer dropped by the Burgum campaign. It was done up to look like a phony newspaper, complete with headlines blasting Stenehjem on a number of fronts.

One of the more serious accusations made in the mailer was that Stenehjem was “under scrutiny” for expensive out-of-state travel and his “close ties” with lobbyists.

Unfortunately, Burgum’s faux newspaper was light on facts about the travel and lobbyists in question, so I asked for some particulars from the campaign last week.

This morning Burgum campaign spokeswoman Kate Mund emailed me a spreadsheet (see below) detailing Stenehjem’s travel from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015.

The details, frankly, are a little underwhelming.

First, the dollar amount. The Burgum campaign counts up $23,143.61 for Stenehjem over that four year time window, or about $5,785 per year. That doesn’t seem to me like an unreasonable amount of money.

That total dollar amount was spread out over 13 trips (about three trips per year) for a per-trip average cost to the taxpayers of about $1,780. That hardly paints the picture of a public figure affording himself lavish travel accommodations on the taxpayer’s dime.

And who are these nefarious organizations Stenehjem was meeting with? The travel was for meetings with three specific groups, actually:

Far from scandalous, Stenehjem’s participation in events held by these organizations is downright boring. This is the sort of thing state leaders from across the nation do. In fact, it should be exactly the sort of thing taxpayers want from their state leader.

Cooperation and collaboration among the various state governments is important to the sound governance of our nation.

Burgum’s mailer leaves one with the impression that Stenehjem is spending inappropriate amounts traveling to exotic locations to engage in insider politics in those proverbial “smokey back rooms.” In reality Stenehjem spent a truly modest amount of money participating in events put on by non-partisan organizations that pretty much every attorney general in the nation is a member of.

“It’s a conservative estimate,” Mund told me of the figures they used for the mailer.  “In reality, he has spent far more than $20,000; we only highlighted certain trips, like stays at the Ritz Carlton.”

If this is the worst the Burgum campaign in Stenehjem’s travel records, I can’t imagine the sort of banality they left out.

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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