In his big money advertising campaign gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum has been campaigning against North Dakota’s budget headaches and rapid spending growth, casting himself as an outsider candidate who will change the status quo.
Behind the scenes, though, Burgum has been quietly sending money to the Republican lawmakers who represent that status quo, and not all of them like it.
The timing is interesting. The lawmakers I’ve spoken to say they received their checks in the mail yesterday, meaning they arrived just days before the NDGOP’s statewide convention.
The amount is interesting too. Every lawmaker I’ve spoken to who got a check said it was from Burgum personally and for $200 on the nose. A penny more and the lawmakers would be obligated to report the contributions on their campaign disclosures.
“Doug has a history of supporting Republican candidates during election years,” was all Burgum campaign manager Kate Mund would tell me about the contributions. “He thoughtfully considers and selectively contributes to candidates he supports.”
I had asked for the number and amounts of contributions, but Mund didn’t provide specifics.
The donations aren’t sitting well with some in the Legislature who say that Burgum is trying to influence them before what could be a contentious state convention and doesn’t have a history of supporting them.
That last is something backed up by the public record. According to the Secretary of State’s campaign finance disclosure database, Burgum made just three reportable contributions over $200 to legislative candidates during the 2014 cycle, all in Fargo’s District 21 race, and they all happened after the June primary.
By the way, Robbie Lauf is currently working for Burgum’s gubernatorial campaign.
If Burgum has a history of shotgunning contributions of $200 or less to legislative candidates across the state the lawmakers I spoke to aren’t aware of it.
“He thinks we are a bunch of hayseeds that can be bought off all the while throwing us under the bus when it comes to his TV ads,” Rep. Mike Nathe of District 30 (Bismarck) told me. “The whole thing doesn’t feel right.”
Nathe, who supports Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s gubernatorial bid, said he received a check from Burgum but is planning to return it. “I’ve met Doug. I like Doug. I think he’s gotten some very bad advice,” Nathe said. “Had we received this check after the primary in June nobody would have given it a second thought. That we got this just days before the convention, it raises a lot of red flags. Especially since most of us have never, ever received a check from him in the past.”
“It’s the timing of it,” Rep. Dan Ruby of District 38 (Minot) told me. “I don’t know if I’m going to accept it.”
Ruby is on the ballot this cycle. He’s been an outspoken supporter of Rep. Rick Becker, another of Burgum’s opponents in the gubernatorial race. Ruby also said he’s never received a donation from Burgum before.
“Let’s give the benefit of the doubt Mr. Burgum that they’re legitimate contributions to people he wants to win, but the timing is unfortunate,” Rep. Bob Martinson of District 35 (Bismarck) told me.
Martinson, who is not up for re-election this cycle and did not receive a contributions, told me he has spoken to numerous lawmakers who received a Burgum contribution. He said everyone he knows who got a check is on the ballot this cycle, and they all got $200.
He said that typically these sort of contributions don’t happen until after the June primary vote.
“It shows incredible naivete for someone who is running for governor,” he said.
Burgum, a multi-millionaire since selling off a software company he founded to Microsoft, has already been pouring money into his gubernatorial campaign. According to political file disclosures required of broadcast and cable outlets by the FCC, he’s spent nearly $550,000 running ads already. That’s not counting money spent on online advertising and campaign organization.
Burgum is spending big on the NDGOP convention this weekend in Fargo, too, even though he said when he launched his campaign that he didn’t plan on winning a majority of votes from convention delegates.
The Burgum campaign is holding a convention kickoff party for delegates at Shotgun Sally’s which will apparently feature free food and drinks according to the campaign’s Facebook event page.
Again, Burgum has said that he doesn’t expect to win the delegate vote at the state convention and will take his campaign to the June primary instead. We’ll see then if this big spending is a help to Burgum of it’s something which turns potential supporters off.