Should a Governor Take Free Super Bowl Tickets?

I just read on The Forum’s website that Governor Doug Burgum is taking free tickets to the Super Bowl. “Burgum and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum will be attending the game at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as guests of Xcel Energy, which leases a suite at the venue, Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.”

“’So they are not paying for their tickets,’ he said.”

Really? Burgum’s going to do that?

Now I understand why there is a petition being circulated to create a North Dakota Ethics Commission. I’ve been skeptical of that idea. No more.

Excel Energy, one of the biggest corporations in one of the most highly regulated industries in North Dakota, is paying for tickets for the Super Bowl for not just our state’s top elected official, but also HIS WIFE.

Well isn’t that special. Y’know, there ought to be a law. Especially when it involves Excel. The company has long been in a dispute with North Dakota regulators—read Governors—over whether North Dakota customers should have to pay higher rates for electricity because Excel is moving more of its power generation in Minnesota to higher cost renewable sources. The conflict has been in and out of court for many years, as well as the subject of discussion between Excel and our regulators—read, the Governor.

So Sunday, in a fancy suite overlooking the biggest sporting event of the year, Excel executives are going to say “Now, now, Governor Burgum, don’t you worry your pretty little head about those electricity rates. You don’t live in Fargo any more, you’re out in Bismarck, in MDU territory now, so it doesn’t affect you anymore. Here have some more champagne, and cheer for your favorite team today. Wait! What? You’re cheering for the Eagles?”

I am reminded of the summer of 1991, when Tracy Potter and I were working for the North Dakota Tourism office, and our ad agency called and said they had two tickets for the U.S. Open Golf Tournament which was being played in Minneapolis, and they wanted us to use them. They knew Tracy and I were golf nuts, and that we would really like to go to see all the famous golfers playing in the biggest golf tournament of the year in America.

Well, I was pretty nervous about taking them. So I called the Attorney General, Nick Spaeth, and asked him if it was okay to do that. Nick said it was a bad idea. We could take them, he said, but we should pay for them, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Well, we did that. They weren’t cheap, but Tracy and I figured that opportunities like this don’t come along very often, so we splurged, paid the ad agency what they had paid for the tickets, and went to the tournament. And we paid our own expenses. And we felt good about that, and we never regretted doing that.

(Aside—we were walking alongside one of the fairways and spotted none other than Nick Spaeth in one of the corporate booths, stocked with fine food and drinks. We never did ask Nick if he paid for his tickets, but I can guarantee you Tracy and I paid for our own beer and burgers.)

So this Sunday our Governor is going to the Super Bowl, free, courtesy of one of the most highly regulated companies in North Dakota, and I’m guessing he’ll be sitting with the lobbyists who work the North Dakota Capitol on a regular basis. Damn, that looks bad. It looks cheap. It looks shady. I’m really disappointed in him. I mean, it’s not like he can’t afford to pay for his own tickets . . .

Oh, and by the way, the Governor is throwing in some official business while he’s there—lunch with Minnesota’s Governor, to discuss state-to-state business—so I wonder if the taxpayers of North Dakota will be picking up the expenses for the trip. And if he’ll be flying down there in the state-owned airplane, at state expense.

Minnesota’s Governor Dayton, by the way, paid for his own ticket to the Super Bowl, according to The Forum’s website. Dayton said he paid $6,000 for his ticket. (Don’t worry, he can afford them too.) So Excel’s cost for Burgum’ tickets, and his wife’s, might be as much as $12,000. Plus chips and dip. And maybe some wings. And a beer or two. You can read the whole story here if you want to.

The initiated measure, which will be gathering signatures any day now, deals directly with this kind of thing. It reads, in part, “The ethics commission may . . . adopt ethics rules, including rules on disclosure, campaign finance, conflict of interest, lobbying, use of position, government contracts, gifts to public officials . . .”

So I guess if I was one of the sponsors of that petition drive to create a North Dakota Ethics Commission, I might now have a really good reason for why we need one. A $12,000 reason. With chips and dip. And wings.

10 thoughts on “Should a Governor Take Free Super Bowl Tickets?

  1. No way should a Governor, whose state does business with a Corporation, or individual, accept substantial giftd from that Corporation.
    Especially someone a rich as Gov. Burgum but, also a Governor as poor as a church mouse.
    It just aint right.


  2. Jim, I ‘ve known you since we were both kids growing up in Hettinger. I have have great respect for you and your loyal commitment to the people and the State of North Dakota. However, it’s hard to believe the ND Governor, worth millions himself by the way, can be bribed over a couple of tickets. He too, as Dayton, the liberal loving Democrat, could easily pay and may do so. You are starting to sound like the true blue Dem you are. In fact, you are sounding a lot like Pelosi, Schumer, and your local hero Heidi. If he can get some movement on the flood control project on the Red River over all the objections of Dayton, the trip is far more valuable than a couple of tix.


  3. It is an ethical lapse on the part of the Governor. These tickets in a sky box at the Suoer Bowl cost $10,000 and up per person. No, he would not be “bribed” by this gift, but he should be certain to disclose any dealings, private or otherwise, he has with Excel in the future while he is Governor. The coziness with entities the state regulates implied by this gift, including the role of the Governor on the state Industrial Commission, makes such gifts off limits. A sitting U.S.Senator cannot accept a gift over $25 in value, so why should a sitting Governor be treated so differently? At the very least, before accepting the gift, the Governor should have sought the advice of the Attorney General for the state of North Dakota. If Burgum is rich, he should have no problem reimbursing Excel for the cost of the tickets


  4. My father used to say, “it isn’t enough for a government official to be virtuous–they must also appear virtuous,” a variation of “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” Burgum should have known better than to give the appearance of taking favors from Excel, regardless of whether he would actually be swayed.


  5. State employees have to complete online Fraud and Conflict-of-Interest tutorials which cover the receipt of gifts. Does he not have to do the same?


  6. I got this e-mail from ND Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman and will add it to these comments:
    Great article on the Gov attending the Super Bowl. Couldn’t agree more. And the Ethics Committee is needed to also address abuses to the rules of order in both chambers of the ND Legislature. I challenged a couple of issues on the floor of the Senate, went to Legislative Council, went to Ray Holmberg (because one issue was the bill from Armstrong about the land under the lake did not go to approps), and to Sen Wardner about issues. The bottom line was that in order to (complain) bring issues forward, I needed more seats in the Senate. In other words, until I have the votes to challenge Mason’s Rules of Order or lack of following the ethical actions, FORGET I


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