A consistent tactic North Dakota Democrats and their various allies like to use in election years is to charge their opponents with ethics violations, even going so far as to file lawsuits and complaints which are usually dismissed after election day.
Because the point of these charges isn’t so much to uncover ethical lapses as to generate negative headlines for political enemies.
The latest iteration of this absurd abuse of ethics procedures is Democratic Attorney General Candidate David Thompson suggesting that Congressman Kevin Cramer improperly reimbursed himself and family members from his campaign. Thompson has the backing of the North Dakota Democratic Party for these accusations.
Thompson, I should add, also accused Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (his opponent this election cycle) and former Governor Jack Dalrymple of bribery earlier this year.
Back in 2013 when Dalrymple was in office Thompson’s arguments were a part of a failed effort to indict him for bribery charges.
For Democrats generally, these accusations against Cramer come after they previously demanded that a tweet sent from his official Congressional Twitter account be investigated because it supposedly was a use of taxpayer resources for a political purpose (I guess they forgot that Twitter is free).
Earlier this year a left wing group filed an ethics complaint against former U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell because he stood in front of a truck with his company’s logo on it in a campaign ad.
The North Dakota Democratic Party, as well as their top candidate Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign, have long made an issue out of Congressman Cramer (Heitkamp’s opponent) paying his family to work for his campaign. They’ve gone so far as to call Cramer a “scam artist” for this.
These Democrats ignore the fact that their gubernatorial candidate employed his son-in-law as his campaign manager in the 2016 cycle.
Oh, and did I mention that Senator Heitkamp herself has paid family members through her campaign too?
Like I said, this is a tactic. The goal here isn’t really to uncover wrongdoing.
But none of this necessarily dismisses Thompson’s charges. Even stopped clocks can be right twice a day. So let’s take a look.
According to Thompson’s complaint, Cramer’s campaign reimbursed him $1,152.75 for travel during the first quarter of 2018 and his wife was reimbursed $531.38. At the federal mileage rate of 54.5 cents per mile, that’s 2,115 miles for Cramer and 975 miles for his wife.
For comparison, a round trip to the state’s largest cities, including Fargo, Dickinson, Williston and Grand Forks, is 836 highway miles taking around 13 hours, according to Google Maps. At that rate, it would’ve taken the Cramers 48 hours of nonstop driving to go 3,090 miles.
Isn’t that doable in three months?
Thompson said technically a quarter is three months, but Cramer only announced he would run for Senate in mid-February. At any rate, Congress was in session for most of the first quarter so it’s hard to imagine Cramer could find time for that much travel, Thompson said.
That’s some weak sauce.
First, we should note that while Cramer wasn’t in the Senate campaign until mid-February, he did have an active campaign to be re-elected to the U.S. House before that. So it wasn’t like he didn’t have legitimate campaign expenses prior to February.
There were 90 days in the 1st quarter of 2018. Cramer’s 2,115 miles amounts to an average of 23.5 miles per day. His wife was reimburse for less than 11.
For context, consider that the 2,115 miles Cramer was reimbursed for equates to driving a circuit from Grand Forks to Fargo to Dickinson to Williston and back to Grand Forks a little more than 2.5 times in 90 days. Easily done, I think, for a statewide candidate.
Cramer wasn’t in the state for the entirety of the first quarter due to his service in Congress, but Thomposon’s argument is that he couldn’t possibly have put on that many miles during the time period. Thompson is wrong. It’s easily done.
Maybe Democrats think it’s a lot of miles because they don’t spend much time campaigning in western North Dakota? Who knows.
Here’s the second part of Thompson’s argument:
The complaint also said Cramer was reimbursed for $253 for “per diem” meals, which suggested Cramer considered the payment a kind of stipend, or salary, not allowed under campaign financing rules. That is, Cramer wasn’t reimbursed for the cost of a meal but for a flat daily amount regardless of actual cost.
Cramer’s campaign filings with the FEC shows the $253 was for 16 meals, or $15.81 a meal. But he’s also filed for per diem meals in other instances and those have varied from $17 to $20.
Are we really to believe that Congressman Cramer is running a meal scam to create $253 in revenue for himself over a period of 90 days? I think, if the Congressman is bent on fraud, there are more lucrative avenues.
Thompson’s accusations are intended for an audience that isn’t likely to read beyond headlines. Doing the math on his charges exposes them for the petty political stunt they are.