Rep. Rick Becker, a plastic surgeon from Bismarck who is running for the NDGOP endorsement for Governor, has announced a leadership team for his campaign which includes five state lawmakers from around the state.
You can read the full press release below. The lawmakers are:
- Rep. Scott Louser of Minot
- Rep. Tom Kading of Fargo
- Senator Joe Miller of Park River
- Rep. Chris Olson of Fargo
- Rep. Nathan Toman of Mandan
Becker’s release also names an advisory board consisting of a number of politicos from around the state: Brett Narloch, the former director of the North Dakota Policy Council; Dustin Gawrylow, executive director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network; Paul Maloney, Community Outreach Director for the Institute of Trafficked Exploited and Missing Persons; Eugene Graner, President of Heartland Investor Services Inc.
I wonder if the campaign is going to have problems with the inclusion of a couple of these advisors. For instance, Gawrylow’s North Dakota Watchdog Network (an organization he seems to have created to employ himself) is registered as a 501c3 non-profit with the federal government.
You can see the IRS letter approving the group’s non-profit status in 2014 right here. Can the director of a non-profit also serve as an advisor for a partisan political campaign?
I’m not so sure.
It’s not clear what sort of an organization the Institute of Trafficked Exploited and Missing Persons is. I’ve searched for IRS filings for the group, but can’t find any. The group accepts donations on their website, however.
I spoke with Becker about this issue, and he told me that he’s unconcerned about Gawrylow’s position with his campaign. It was a brief conversation as Becker didn’t have a clear cell phone signal but he did tell me, “It’s an unpaid position.”
I’m not sure that’s a distinction which will matter to the IRS. It would be an easy campaign finance dodge if campaigns could benefit from the work of advisors who are on the payroll of a nonprofit. Nonprofits can certainly have opinions on policies, and nonprofit employees can engage in all the partisan politics they want on their own time, but a nonprofit employee cannot officially endorse a campaign in an official capacity.
And what is being announced as a policy advisor to a campaign, using your job title at a nonprofit, if not an official endorsement of that campaign?
I attempted to contact Gawrylow, but wasn’t able to reach him.
Anyway, Becker is the only Republican candidate in the race so far. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is widely expected to officially announce his campaign soon. State Senator Tom Campbell and Treasurer Kelly Schmidt have also expressed interest in running, but have been quiet in recent weeks.
UPDATE: I spoke with Gawrylow and he defended his inclusion on Becker’s advisory board.
“I’m not getting paid by the campaign nor am I doing anything different than what I would do for the North Dakota Watchdog Network,” he told me. “If there was ever a case of being requested to do research that would go beyond what I would normally do there would be a documented agreement for that to ensure there would not be any conflict.”
Asked if he felt his inclusion on Becker’s advisory board was an endorsement of the campaign, Gawrylow said “I’m an individual too,” arguing that he isn’t endorsing the campaign in an official capacity as the head of the North Dakota Watchdog Network.
According to the IRS, “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The question is whether or not Gawrylow, as the executive director and only employee of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, is directly participating in Becker’s campaign.
I asked Gawrylow if he would advise any other campaigns this cycle. “If they want to,” he said. “Whether or not they want to send it out in a press release, that’s their business.”