In North Dakota there is no law prohibiting the use of campaign dollars for personal things. Under our state law if you give a politician running for state office money they can spend it on whatever they want, be it personal or campaign related.
It became an issue during the 2015 legislative session. State Rep. Ben Hanson introduced HB1253 which would have made it illegal to use campaign dollars for any personal benefit. An excerpt from that legislation:
The legislation was voted down in the state House on a 26-65 vote, though not before Democrats made some political hay over the issue. Video of Rep. Corey Mock (D-Doesn’t Live In His District) incredulously defending the legislation during a floor speech (video here) was featured in a John Oliver polemic on HBO.
What’s ironic about all this is that now, after the Democrats made a stink about this issue (and rightfully so, I think) their candidate for governor is asking supporters to give him money to fix his personal vehicle. Which is apparently a Cadillac SUV.
From the Associated Press:
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Democratic candidate for governor wants some help paying for vehicle repairs.
Marvin Nelson’s campaign is asking for $1,300 in donations to cover the cost of a new starter and other work to his 10-year-old Cadillac SUV. His website shows he raised $110.
Nelson is a state representative from Rolla and an agricultural consultant. He says he has put almost 50,000 miles on his vehicle campaigning in North Dakota.
I’m not sure why anyone would think that this is sound political strategy. This sort of thing makes the candidate come off as desperate and needy, not exactly the characteristics of a good statewide leader. Plus, it doesn’t seem to be working all that well.
Here’s the pitch from Nelson’s campaign website. You’ll notice that, as I write this, he’s only received four donations totaling $110 for the repairs. That’s…not very much.
Mind you, this isn’t illegal under current law, but I’m pretty sure it would have been under the legislation Hanson proposed. Because getting the candidate’s Cadillac repaired sure seems like a “personal benefit.”
UPDATE: In the comments on my Facebook page Nelson’s campaign manager, and son-in-law, says the Cadillac is his which he loaned to the campaign. I can’t find an in-kind contribution to account for that in Nelson’s campaign filings. And fixing your son-in-law’s car with campaign dollars still sounds like a personal expense to me.
So in addition to looking needy and desperate, Nelson comes off looking a bit hypocritical too.
Nor is this the first time a North Dakota Democrat running for statewide office has put out a plea to supporters to fund car repairs. Pam Gulleson did so during her 2012 campaign for the U.S. House, prompting this hilarious parody song from a SAB reader: