Money pours into race for ND ag commissioner, regulator of oil and gas


By Rob Port | North Dakota Bureau

HOT RACE: In the final weeks of the election cycle the race for Agriculture Commissioner in North Dakota is by far seeing the most political contributions. The Agriculture Commissioner gets a seat on the powerful State Industrial Commission wich overseas oil and gas development in the state’s booming Bakken region.

BISMARCK, N.D. — In the final weeks of the election season, the North Dakota agriculture commissioner race is getting far more contributions from both Republicans and Democrats than any other.

According to 48-hour reports filed with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office the race between Republican incumbent Doug Goehring and Democrat challenger Ryan Taylor has become the battleground among statewide races.

Beginning 39 days before election day state law requires campaign committees to report within 48 hours any contributions over $500. In this election cycle, campaigns had to start reporting those contributions on Sept. 25. Since that date, Goehring and Taylor have received the most contributions, far more combined than any other statewide race on the ballot, an indication Republicans and Democrats see it as the most competitive.

As of publication the two candidates had combined to receive over $253,000 in contributions. Goehring had the edge with over $137,000. Taylor had taken in just over $116,000.

In addition to being the top regulatory position over what has historically been the state’s most important industry, the commissioner of agriculture also has a seat on the powerful North Dakota Industrial Commission alongside the governor and attorney general. The commission oversees numerous aspects of state government, including the state-owned bank and oil and gas development. Democrats have been outspoken in their criticism of Republican handling of the state’s booming oil and gas development.

After initially telling media he wouldn’t run for public office in 2014, Taylor entered the race after Goehring admitted to Watchdog in February he’d made inappropriate comments to female staff. Taylor has citied that Watchdog report in television advertising.

STAND OUT: The race for Agriculture Commissioner has attracted more contributions since September 25th than any other competition on the statewide ballot.

The state’s other executive branch races haven’t seen massive contributions. Coming in second place in terms of 48-hour contributions is the race for tax commissioner between Republican Ryan Rauschenberger and Democrat Jason Astrup, though combined the two have raised a fraction of the agriculture commissioner race.

Since Sept. 25, Rauschenberger has raised $12,250 while Astrup has raised just over $10,000.

Rauschenberger admitted to Watchdog in September he’d been struggling with alcohol addiction, and he put his campaign on hiatus shortly thereafter to seek treatment in Minnesota. That hasn’t translated into an influx of monetary support for Astrup’s campaign. The Fargo Democrat has raised the most in 48-hour contributions among Democrats aside from Taylor, but he’s received less than $50,000 so far this election cycle to Rauschenberger’s $140,000.

Recent polling sponsored by and Fargo television station Valley News Live shows Republican candidates with an advantage in these races.

The survey had Rauschenberger leading Astrup, though neither candidate enjoyed support from more than 40 percent of respondents. The Republican was supported by 37 percent while the Democrat was supported by 31 percent. More than a quarter of respondents, 27 percent, said they were undecided.

In the agriculture commission race, Goehring was shown leading Taylor 47 percent to 37 percent with 16 percent of respondents undecided.

The polling was conducted by DFM Research of St. Paul, Minn. It polled 430 “certain” or “very likely” voters between Oct. 13-16 with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.