Yesterday was a holiday week for members of Congress. They took the occasion of the Martin Luther King day holiday to go back to their states/districts and focus on constituents.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp used the time to reshape the history of her 2012 campaign. It started with a profile in the Daily Beast wherein Heitkamp advised future Democrat candidates running in red state to focus on their own accomplishments rather than attacking their opponents. That, after Heitkamp ran an ugly campaign in which she and/or her surrogates smeared her opponent Rick Berg as a “slum lord” who attacks women.
Then, on Friday, Senator Heitkamp spent some time with students at Dickinson State University, telling them about the evils of money in politics:
“Money is way out of hand in politics,” said Heitkamp to her audience. “As long as money equals speech, you can’t restrict any money in politics because you can’t restrict free speech. Those with the most money get to speak the loudest.
The people with money speak the loudest? That’s something Senator Heitkamp knows a thing or two about.
During her 2012 campaign, Senator Heitkamp set up a special campaign fund just to funnel money from the trial lawyer industry into her coffers, and she’s been a good investment for them so far. But for the real quid pro quo between Heitkamp and big-money interests, look no further than Heitkamp’s top source of campaign funds, the Motley Rice law firm.
Jack McConnell, who has now been appointed to the federal bench by President Obama, worked for the Motley Rice law firm when then-Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp appointed him to be Special Assistant Attorney General “for purposes of representing the State of North Dakota in tobacco litigation.” For his work on behalf of North Dakota and several other states, McConnell personally will receive at least $2.25 million a year in payouts through 2024 (yes, even while he serves as a federal judge).
Senator Heitkamp has tried to claim that McConnell “didn’t receive a dime for any legal work that he ever did for the state of North Dakota,” but that’s demonstrably untrue. For work he did more than a decade ago, McConnell has received millions and will continue to receive millions per year for more than the next decade.
But the reason why Senator Heitkamp doesn’t like to talk about McConnell and his work on behalf of North Dakota (other than the obvious one having to do with ego and political credit-taking) are the seamy connections McConnell and his law firm have to Heitkamp’s electoral efforts.
In 2000, when Heitkamp was running for Governor, McConnell and his law firm donated $75,000 to her campaign. In her 2012 campaign for the US Senate, the Motley Rice law firm poured $46,750 into Heitkamp’s coffers according to OpenSecrets.org , making that firm her largest source of individual political contributions (just ahead of an anti-nuke group and an anti-fracking law firm).
Even after the election, with Heitkamp not due back on the ballot until 2018, Motley Rice employees have continued to funnel money into Heitkamp’s campaign. Nearly $50,000 worth of contributions from lawyers on the east coast to a North Dakota Democrat who won’t be running for reelection for another four years.
Of course, all politicians have these entanglements, which is why we have transparency for political contributions. So we can judge the entanglements. But what’s amazing is how often Heitkamp is allowed to talk about civility in politics, and getting money out of politics, with nary a reporter courageousness enough to call her out on them.
That’s the sort of thing, though, that prompts Senator Heitkamp to start threatening your access. And how many reporters working a beat in North Dakota want that sort of a headache?