Does The NDGOP Have Bookkeeping Problems?


Michal Conger published an article for the Washington Examiner a couple of days ago detailing what the headline claims is “strange spending” by the North Dakota-based “super PAC” called the Brighter Future Fund.

The group was founded by Odney Advertising president Pat Finken (full disclosure: Odney sends advertising dollars to SAB), and during the 2012 cycle was headed by former House candidate turned Odney employee Shane Goettle. The current head is former Tax Commissioner Cory Fong who stepped down to take the position late last year (Conger links to my post about Fong stepping down).

The group raised $133,000 during the 2012 election cycle, mostly from energy-industry sources and the North Dakota Republican Party. Most of the money raised was given to Odney for ad campaigns in support of Kevin Cramer and Rick Berg who were running for the House and Senate, respectively. The group also got money for get-out-the-vote efforts in the oil patch (which didn’t go very well, as I wrote about previously).

It’s not a lot of money, really. And while some in the state have emailed the story to me suggesting that the donation from the state party to this PAC is unseemly (“Everything in the NDGOP is a way to make Pat Finken rich,” is what one observer told me”), it doesn’t seem unreasonable on its face that the NDGOP would spend money on getting the vote out in North Dakota’s very conservative-leaning western districts.

As for the relationship between Finken, Goettle, Fong and the state party, it’s pretty easily explained by the fact that North Dakota is a small state with a small political community. We can debate how effective the Brighter Future Fund was in its objectives, and Republicans can debate whether or not contributions to the group are a good use of party dollars, but there doesn’t seem to be anything specifically untoward going on here. And the breathlessness of Conger’s article seems unwarranted.

All of this was pretty well known in state political circles.

What is interesting is this from the very end of Conger’s article:

The party gave the Brighter Future Fund $50,000 in the 2012 cycle, by far its largest donation. Party donations to super PACs are very unusual, since the party can run the same types of ads that a super PAC can.

The party understated its receipts and spending by hundreds of thousands of dollars and “failed to disclose debts and obligations totaling $235,563” in 2009 and 2010, according to an FEC audit report released Wednesday.

The findings are among the more serious uncovered by the FEC at major party organizations and can result in fines.

Several expenditures during that period went to Odney, according to FEC filings. The party has paid Odney $14,000 since 2007.

Goettle replaced Robert Harms, who was treasurer during the audit period and currently serves as chairman.

The party has received a whopping 192 letters warning of filing discrepancies from the FEC since its inception. By comparison, the much-larger Republican National Committee has received 322.

That’s not good.

The biggest complaint I hear about the state party from, well, pretty much every Republican I talk to is how disorganized it is. Leadership at the party has been a revolving door for years now, and fundraising in this cycle is not going well.

Even so, it’s hard to argue with the party’s success. The NDGOP has put its candidates in every single statewide elected office but one (Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s seat), in the Governor’s office since 1993, a majority of the seats in the Senate since 1995 and a majority of seats in the House since 1992.