Bought And Paid For

            Memo to North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring: You are up for re-election in 2014. Campaigns are expensive. Pretty soon it will be time to get going with your fundraising. If you need a place to start, just click here, and a list will be provided to you. The link is to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website. On it you will find the list of 2012 campaign contributors that Jack Dalrymple provided to Al Jaeger in fulfillment of North Dakota’s campaign disclosure laws. It is a good list. It is the list of more than 1000 people who, Jack Dalrymple reports, gave him money during the past year.  From this list Jack received about $2,308,714, (give or take a few dollars, because the math was done by an English major—me) to get himself elected Governor.

            There’s a short list inside this long list. It is a list of people who are doing a bunch of business in the North Dakota oilfields right now. It is oil and gas company lawyers, engineers, oil company owners and their executives and employees, people who build housing for oilfield workers, people who own or work for subcontractors of the oil companies, trucking company owners and executives, oil company Political Action Committees (PACs), and a few other oil-related businessmen and women who are making a whole bunch of money in the oil field. Altogether there are 85 people on that shorter list. They must be very interested in North Dakota state government, because among them, they gave Jack Dalrymple $438,295 for his re-election campaign this year. They probably ought to give you guys that much for your campaigns, since you are the other two members, along with Jack Dalrymple, of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, and the three of you regulate the North Dakota oil industry. And they want to be your friends. So you don’t regulate them so much.

            End of memo.

            Well. You read the above number right. According to his reports, Jack Dalrymple raised more than four hundred thousand dollars for his campaign from the oil industry, and the people who do their business in North Dakota’s oil fields. Dalrymple’s reports listed contributions from 85 people whose gifts averaged more than $5,000 each. Such a thing is unprecedented in North Dakota. Of course, an oil boom of this sort is unprecedented too.  If this is the new normal, I am scared to death. Because such a huge concentration of cash in the hands of a regulator, provided by those being regulated, sets the stage for massive abuse. And that a group of fewer than 100 people can provide close to a half a million dollars in campaign cash to influence state policies seems almost incomprehensible to me. And, I’m sure, to most North Dakotans.

I mentioned in a blog post a couple days ago that the North Dakota Secretary of State sat on Dalrymple’s contribution report until after the election. Now, I guess, I know why. Even though Dalrymple knew he was going to win, surely he didn’t want people to know how he had come by the resources to guarantee that win.

When the report finally showed up on the Secretary of State’s website late this week, I went though it name by name. I flagged everyone who gave more than a thousand dollars, and then paid particular attention to those from outside North Dakota who gave at least that much. And then I Googled every one of them to find out who they were. That was important, because just looking at the list, it is not apparent how many of them represent the oil industry.  It was pretty easy to identify the Exxon Mobil PAC, and everyone knows Harold Hamm owns Continental Oil, but the name Robert Clark didn’t mean much to me until I Googled him and found out he was the chairman and CEO of Beartrack Energy. He gave $2,500 to Dalrymple. Dale Behan, who is, I found out, president of Western International, one of the largest suppliers of fracking water in the Bakken, wrote a check for $17,500. No doubt he’d rather have the state of North Dakota regulating fracking than the Environmental Protection Agency. I learned that Eileen Campbell of Houston, who gave $2,500, works for Marathon Oil, and that John Earley, from Durango, CO, who gave $4,000, is president of Saddle Butte Pipeline, which is owned by Peak Energy, and cut his teeth in the energy industry by spending 20 years working for the infamous Koch brothers. The list is loaded with those kinds of names, with those kinds of backgrounds. Who knew?

Now it is easier to understand why Dalrymple filed a lawsuit to open up roadless, proposed wilderness areas, to roads, so the oil companies can get in there and drill. Now we know why there will be oil wells on the boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and inside Little Missouri State Park. And now we know why western North Dakota’s night sky is lit up by the flares of natural gas outlets which are supposed to have been extinguished, and the gas collected, but are allowed to burn long past the deadline outlined in state law while the Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division looks the other way. Now we know why oil wells are being sited in sensitive wildlife areas, fragmenting deer habitat, inhibiting deer reproduction, and resulting in huge cutbacks in available deer licenses.

Now we know who owns North Dakota government. It cost the industry just $438,295. A pittance to them. But a huge step for North Dakota politicians into a brave new world. Jack Dalrymple has opened the doors to that new world. I am terribly worried about what comes next.

Footnote: Three other special interests stood out on Dalrymple’s fundraising list. I didn’t do the detailed examination that I did of the oil and gas industry, but the groups were visible enough to see. The coal industry got worked over pretty well, as did agricultural interests, especially folks associated with Dakota Growers Pasta, the co-op Dalrymple took private and turned into a for-profit corporation a few years ago. Those were expected. Surprising, though was a group of companies and individuals who came from other states to Minot to help clean up after the flood last year. Jack leaned on them pretty hard, and they wrote some big checks. I didn’t like that very much. Pretty cheap, I thought. And he also tapped some of the big boys, the ones who financed national conservative groups. John Childs from Florida, who wrote checks for more than $3 million to big Super-PACs like American Crossroads and Club For Growth this year (and gave $100,000 to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during his recall election), popped for ten grand to Dalrymple, and Billy Ulm, another big supporter of Crossroads, the Karl Rove PAC, sent a check for $6,000 about ten days before the election, when Dalrymple was up about 70-30 in the polls. Go figure.  Ulm, by the way, lives in Bogart, GA. What a great name for a town. Overall, Dalrymple’s $2.3 million in contributions dwarfed those of his opponent, Ryan Taylor, who reported raising a respectable (for a Democrat) $570,000. And Dalrymple reported more than $300,000 still in the bank at the close of the General Election reporting period. We’ll have to wait until January to find out if he spent it in the closing days or if he set it aside for future efforts. Not a bad little nest egg.

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