Matt Evans: Doug Burgum Inspires Loyalty


Gubernatorial candidate, Doug Burgum talks about his campaign for governor now that Wayne Stenehjem was nominated at the Republican convention. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Rob Port recently released a short analysis of Doug Burgum’s campaign donors. He concluded that about 2/3rds of the cash came from out of state, while only one third came from in state.

He also mentioned that by donor count, about 2/3rds of the donors were from in-state.

How can most of the donors be in-state, but most of the cash value is out-of-state?

This actually isn’t necessarily surprising.

Suppose that that we have 100 average political donors, who each make one donation. 50 of them are from North Dakota. 50 of them are from Maryland.

Now, all else being equal, what might we expect?

Well, Maryland is ranked #1 in the US for Median income. North Dakota is ranked #20. The difference is about $20,000 per year.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…it is tempting to try and suggest that the out of state donors are meddling with North Dakota politics. But that explanation really doesn’t hold water.[/mks_pullquote]

All else being held equal, we’d expect to see higher contribution amounts (and totals) coming from Maryland.


Because people in Maryland make more money than people in North Dakota.

Look at the list of out-of-state donors. You see a lot of people in Seattle and California – states with lots of very rich people.

So, the thing that Rob Port chose to highlight is that most of the large-donation-amount money is coming from out of state. But he could have just as easily highlighted that most of the donors are coming from in-state.

Now, it is tempting to try and suggest that the out of state donors are meddling with North Dakota politics.

But that explanation really doesn’t hold water.

Rob Pointed out that Bill Gates was on the donor list. Bill Gates is known to spend money all over the place to further causes he believes in, and some people see that as meddlesome.

What Rob either didn’t notice, or didn’t point out, is that many of the names on that list – especially many of the names from out of state – are people who are in the software industry – people who have a personal connection to Doug Burgum.

(Some of the names also look like venture capital or finance companies that Burgum may have dealt with, but I know very little about that world)

Many of the names are current or former Microsoft employees. You may recall that Burgum was on the Senior Leadership Team at Microsoft, and so he worked directly with some of the biggest donors on that list.

I’ll do a quick overview of just a few of the out of state the names I recognize:

  • Jeff Raikes – ex Microsoft
  • Scott McNealy – ex CEO of Sun Microsystems
  • Steve Ballmer – ex CEO of Microsoft
  • George Zinn – current Microsoft
  • Darren Laybourn – currently at Microsoft in Seattle, former North Dakota resident

Some of the people on that list with Seattle area addresses actually relocated from North Dakota to Washington state to work at the Microsoft world headquarters after the Great Plains acquisition was finalized.

I recognize many of the other ND and MN names as people who have had the opportunity to work for Burgum at Great Plains, Microsoft, or both.

So, the message I take from this disclosure isn’t that Doug Burgum is bringing lots of outside money into the governor’s race – although, Burgum does seem to be absolutely committed to trying to bring outside investment into North Dakota (which is a good thing).

Rather, I see from this disclosure that Burgum has one of the key attributes that matters in North Dakota, and especially in North Dakota politics:

Doug Burgum inspires loyalty.