The Price of Politics

So, George B. Sinner is running for Congress. Good for him. I wish him well. Remember this: George B. Sinner is the State Senator from Fargo. He’s about 60 years old. His father is George A. Sinner, also from Fargo. He’s the former Governor. He’s about 85. Remember that. A = 85. B = 60.  It’s how I remember to keep them, both longtime friends of mine, straight.

George B. starts out pretty late for a race for a seat in the U.S. Congress. By that I mean that his opponent, incumbent Republican Kevin Cramer (for whom I voted two years ago but will not vote for this time, because, while I always choose friends over politics on election day, George B. has been a friend longer than Kevin, so George B. gets the nod) has already got a three hundred thousand dollar fundraising advantage. In a race where each candidate might be expected to spend a million dollars or so, that’s a significant edge. But not one that can’t be overcome, if he gets to work. Pam Gulleson, who ran against Cramer two years ago, raised just over a million dollars, a significant sum for an unknown from North Dakota. Given George B.’s family roots and his presence in the Fargo banking and business community, you’d have to think his fundraising opportunity would be at least as good as, or better than, Gulleson’s.  But he needs to get after it, fast. I think he’s going to need $1.5 million to win. He has 231 days to raise that. That means he has to raise $6,500 a day between now and November 4. Counting today. If he doesn’t raise $6,500 today, he has to raise $13,000 tomorrow to catch up. And if he doesn’t raise $13,000 tomorrow, well, you get the picture. I don’t care how good a candidate he is, if he doesn’t raise at least $1.5 million, he‘s probably going to lose.

Speaking of money, I thought I might just do a little checking on how the other candidates in this year’s election are doing in that arena. They’ve all had to file end-of-year fundraising reports if they were raising money in 2013. They’re all available, state candidates here, federal candidates here.

Cramer tops the ticket for the Republicans this year, and he tops the fundraising list as well. In 2013, he raised $461,000. Not bad. But he spent $192,000 of it already, much of that on fundraising. One unique thing about Kevin’s FEC report is the payments from his campaign committee to himself and his wife, Kris. Kevin Pays Kris about $1,500 a month to work as his off-season campaign assistant and scheduler, from campaign funds, a little over $16,000 in 2013. I’m not sure, but I think she works out of their home, but maybe she goes to Republican headquarters part of the time. I don’t guess there’s anything wrong with that, it is just unusual for a Congressman to have his wife on the payroll. And Kevin keeps real good track of his own expenses while he’s on the road, mostly back here in North Dakota. He reimbursed himself a little over $16,000 for “per diem” and travel expenses from his campaign fund. That, too, is unusual. I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon, or if it reflects on Cramer’s personal financial situation. I looked through campaign disclosure reports for “reimbursements” in their campaign committees’ spending for former and current Senators and Congressmen. Neither Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, nor Earl Pomeroy generally reimbursed themselves for anything from their campaign accounts during their time in office, although I know Earl had a campaign committee credit card he used to pay some personal expenses while he was on the road. Rick Berg did reimburse himself, about $15,000, but it was all for use of his personal airplane, or perhaps one owned by his company, a corporation, from which he could not take a free ride under Congressional rules. John Hoeven didn’t list any reimbursements for anything from his campaign committee, but he’s rich. Heidi Heitkamp, on the other hand, was reimbursed about nine thousand for unspecified expenses during the past year. Not sure what that’s about. Her disclosure form just says “reimbursement.” Cramer’s is a bit more specific. It lists items such as “mileage reimbursement” and “per diem” numerous times. Not sure what his per diem rate is or where he was at, or what he was doing, when he claimed it. What I know is, Cramer needs the money. He reportedly lives in his Congressional office, sleeping on an air mattress, because he can’t afford to maintain both a Bismarck and a Washington residence. So I guess we can forgive him for tapping into his campaign funds to subsidize his family’s income. As long as he keeps it legal, which I’m guessing he does. He’s pretty careful. Legal, but ethically questionable, I’d say.

But back to matters at hand. Cramer had almost $300,000 in his campaign bank account as of the beginning of the year. And now I’m guessing the fundraising gets serious. George B. better get going.

What about the rest of the ticket? Well, incumbent Republicans standing for election this year have all had some success. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem leads the pack with $211,000 raised in 2013 and about $230,000 in the bank. But Stenehjem’s numbers are misleading. Almost three-fourths of his money came from one source—a $150,000 check from the Republican State Leadership committee. Stenehjem has been criticized for taking these kinds of gifts before. The RSLC is a 527 Committee which accepts corporate funds and spreads them out to candidates across the country. So, although North Dakota law prohibits candidates and political parties from taking corporate donations, once they are “washed” through groups like the RSLC, they apparently become legal. Trust me, Stenehjem knows the law—he’s the Attorney General—but like Cramer’s “reimbursements” and payments to his wife, there is something ethically questionable here. Especially this year. Previous gifts to Stenehjem’s campaigns were $25,000 in each of his 2006 and 2010 campaigns. But the RSLC upped the ante, way, way up, to $150,000 this year. Not sure what’s up with that.

Of note is the fact that Stenehjem might have trouble raising funds from more traditional Republican sources this year (read: The Oil Industry) because of his effort to put some restrictions on how oil wells are drilled in  or near “extraordinary places” in western North Dakota. Stenehjem’s 2013 contributors list contains just a couple small gifts from the oil industry, as opposed to a pretty substantial volume of checks to other Republican officials and candidates last year (more about that in a minute).  And it is a bit ironic that on December 19, 2013, the day he introduced his “extraordinary places” proposal at a North Dakota Industrial commission meeting, his $150,000 check from the RSLC arrived in the mail. I’m not going to go so far as to say he was emboldened to take on the oil industry that day, but hey, a $150,000 insurance policy is a nice thing to have.

On the other hand, Jack Dalrymple, who goes by the title of Governor but who is not running for re-election this year, or maybe ever, continues his cozy relationship with the oil boys. Even though he’s two and a half years away from what would be his re-election effort, the oil industry ponied up more than $30,000 to Dalrymple’s campaign committee this year. Just “staying in touch” with the guy who could (and did) kill the “extraordinary places” proposal.

The third member of the Industrial Commission, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, wasn’t quite as successful as his fellow Commission members. Goehring raised only $20,000, just $3,000 of it from Oil industry PACs, but he did get a $12,500 check from the Republican Agriculture Commissioner’s Committee, a group that brags on its website “Individuals, corporations, PACs and foundations contribute to the RACC. Contribution amounts are unlimited.”  More “washed” corporate money, in spite of North Dakota’s laws banning it. Makes me almost wish the Democrats could figure out how to tap into that kind of money. Maybe they’d win once in a while.

Of the other Republicans on the ballot, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger raised $134,000 (almost $50,000 of that from the oil industry), Public Service Commisioners Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk raised $80,000 and $52,000 respectively, and Al Jaeger, who almost never raises much money, received $7,000, with $5,000 of it coming from the Realtors PAC.

Our U.S. Senators were in the fundraising game as well. John Hoeven, who has almost three years to go before his term ends, raised just over $100,000 last year, but only $5,000 from the oil industry. I guess they know where he stands on things already, and will be there for him in 2016. He does have almost $700,000 in the bank, much of it left over from his first Senate race in 2010.

Heidi Heitkamp has been more active. In her first year in office, she snagged more than half a million dollars for her campaign account. But she spent more than $450,000 of that, leaving her only $175,000 in the bank, counting money she had left from her 2012 campaign. Most of her money came from PACs during a very active Washington, D.C. fundraising year. Oil was good to her though, working to keep her faithful, pumping almost $75,000 into her bank account. I was puzzled about how she could spend so much money in a non-campaign year, so I looked through her campaign expenditures list pretty carefully. Turns out she spent about half her income raising that money. She lists expenditures of $49,000 to Anne Lewis Strategies, $92,000 to Schimanski and Associates and $68,000 to the Southpaw Group, all Democrat fundraising companies. In addition, there are tens of thousands of dollars worth of catering bills in Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota, likely for fundraising receptions. The result is, after raising $513,000 for her campaign account in 2013, she’s left with just $175,000 in the bank. But she has almost five years left in her term, so she’s in no hurry. Still, spending that much money to raise that much money leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not that any of it was my money). I wish she wasn’t doing it that way. Making the fundraising companies rich.

Which reminds me of my old Friend Duane Sand. You’ve read about him here before. He’s been running the greatest political fundraising scam in America for years. In fact if you Google him, you’ll find the top two links are to stories about his fundraising scams on this blog and Rob Port’s Say Anything blog. Suppose old Duane is done now? Nope. His front man in Washington, Scott Mackenzie, filed an FEC report for Duane in January of this year, reporting that he raised almost $18,000 in 2013, and paid it all to his fundraising firm. In other words, the D.C. shop Duane uses is just raising money for itself using Duane’s name. Duane can’t do much about it, because he still owes them $126,000 from his ill-fated 2012 U.S. Senate Primary Election campaign against Rick Berg. So he just lets them keep on sending fundraising pitches to dupeable conservatives who like writing checks in response to fire-breathing fundraising letters purportedly signed by a candidate.

Well, okay, I’ve taken enough of your time and mine on this subject. It’s always good to catch up with our politicians though, to see who’s buying, er, supporting them. I think I started out by telling George B. Sinner he needs to get out and raise money. Hope you got a few ideas here, George. Good luck. The day’s almost over. Did you raise $6,500 today? 

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