When Governor Doug Burgum went to the Super Bowl over the weekend his tickets were paid for by Xcel Energy. A utility company heavily regulated by the state.
As I wrote earlier this week, Burgum should have paid for his own ticket. That would have been the right thing to do.
But did his decision to accept luxury accommodations (Burgum’s staff told me the Governor paid for the rest of his travel arrangements outside of the Super Bowl tickets himself) for one of the biggest sporting events of the year break any state laws or ethics policies?
It doesn’t appear as though Burgum would be in violation of the state’s unlawful influence statutes. While the North Dakota Century Code (Chapter 12.1-12, specifically) does make it illegal to bribe or otherwise influence public officials with gifts, there would have to be evidence that Burgum is using his official powers in some way in exchange for the gift. It needs to be a quid pro quo relationship, in other words.
We know Burgum got some quid, but there’s no evidence as I write this that he gave back a quo.
How about ethics policies? The North Dakota Industrial Commission, one of the state’s most powerful regulatory bodies which Burgum chairs, does have an ethics policy which precludes employees of the commission (defined as including the members of the commission itself) from doing anything which could even appear to be inappropriate.
The full policy is below, but here’s an excerpt:
The NDIC ethics policies also require any employee (which, again, includes members of the commission) to report a gift such as luxury Super Bowl accommodations to the executive director of the commission.
That’s a woman named Karlene Fine, and she told me Governor Burgum made no such disclosure, but also that he didn’t have to because Xcel Energy no official business with the NDIC.
“An employee of Xcel serves on the Renewable Energy Council which is an advisory board to the Commission but the company does not do business with the Industrial Commission,” she told me in an email.
How about the governor’s office itself? Do they have an ethics policy, and if so did the Governor follow it when he accepted the Super Bowl tickets?
Turns out there is no policy at all.
“The Governor’s Office currently does not have an ethics policy, but our legal counsel has been working on one, and we’d be happy to share it with you when it’s finalized,” Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for the Governor, told me via email.
In summary, it doesn’t appear as though Burgum taking Super Bowl tickets was a crime, because there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo exchange. Accepting the tickets probably would have run afoul of the NDIC’s ethics policies, except that Xcel Energy has no business with the NDIC. And taking the tickets couldn’t have violated the ethics policies of the Governor’s Office itself because they don’t have any.
I want to reiterate that I don’t believe Governor Burgum would do Xcel Energy’s bidding in exchange for some tickets. I don’t think he’s that sort of political leader. But accepting the tickets has an appearance of impropriety, and at a time when the public is losing faith in their public servants (something Burgum himself capitalized on during his 2016 campaign railing against the “good old boys club” in government), that seems like a poor choice.
I wish Burgum had bought is own tickets. I wish, even now, that he’d reimburse Xcel Energy for the accommodations.