Who’s Got Money, Who Doesn’t? And Who Didn’t File A Report?

AND THE WINNER IS . . . . . . . . . . Ryan Rauschenberger!

North Dakota’s election laws require all candidates for statewide and Legislative offices to file campaign finance disclosure statements three times a year—before the Primary Election, before the General Election, and at the end of the year.

All contributions greater than $200 from an individual or a political action committee must be reported. In the case of statewide candidates, the total collected in smaller amounts must also be reported but names remain secret, allowing Democrats to give secret small donations to their Republican friends or neighbors, and vice versa, without being exposed. I admit, I’ve done it.

And then, statewide candidates also have to list their “cash on hand” with each report. That’s the contest Rauschenberger, our State Tax Commissioner, won. On May 11, 2018, Rauschenberger reported he had $110,097.02 in the bank, the most of any candidate in North Dakota, except for those running for U.S. Senate and Congress.

That’s a pretty significant accomplishment. But the timing of his fundraising is more interesting than the amount.

On September 30 of last year, just three months before the start of the year in which he was scheduled to run for re-election, Rauschenberger had raised just $4,000 for his 2018 campaign. That night, (y’know, I’m tired of typing that long name, so I’m just going to use his first name from now on) Ryan went on a bender, and got nailed for drunk driving. In the next three months, between October 1 and December 31, Ryan raised $53,500 for his campaign.

And in the next four months after that, from January to May 2018, he raised another $48,000. Which means that, since the day he put his career as North Dakota State Tax Commissioner in jeopardy by getting arrested for drunk driving, he has raised more than $100,000 for his re-election campaign. Go figure.

Of course, with that stain on his record, he’s going to need it, and his opponent in the General Election, Kylie Oversen, hasn’t done badly herself, with $28,000 in the bank so far. But she’s going to need a lot more than that. I don’t know what the key to Ryan’s fundraising prowess is, except that his father, Ron, is a longtime high-ranking figure in the North Dakota Republican Party, and maybe he helped. But he’s raised a ton of money IN SPITE OF his drunk driving arrest. Republicans donors are so forgiving.

I don’t know if Oversen is going to make the drunk driving conviction an issue or not, but there’s this video that keeps resurfacing on the internet, and it might make a pretty interesting TV spot. We’ll see how this plays out. TV costs a lot of money, and she’s going to need a lot more than $28,000.

So who else is on the winner’s list? Well, no surprise, they’re pretty much all Republicans, which makes sense, because the incumbents are all Republicans, and incumbents have an easier time raising money than challengers, generally.

In second place is Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, with $89,000 in the bank, followed closely by Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann with $81,000.

Goehring got a head start. He had $69,000 left over from his 2014 re-election campaign against Ryan Taylor. That was a big-spending race, with Goehring raising $511,000 that year and Taylor $425,000. Goehring won by about 30,000 votes. Taylor has bowed out of elective politics—for now, anyway. But don’t be surprised . . .

Goehring’s added funds to his campaign each year since, but his 2018 opponent, Sen. Jim Dotzenrod didn’t get into the race until the State Democratic-NPL Convention in March, and reported raising just a thousand dollars so far.

Christmann, likewise, in office since 2012 because PSC members serve six-year terms, has taken advantage of incumbency and has raised at least $10,000 every year since 2014. Not surprisingly, much of his campaign money comes from energy interests and utilities, who have an interest in what the PSC does.

But there’s also a Democrat among the fundraising leaders—Secretary of State candidate Josh Boschee, who right now appears to be the Democrats’ best shot at winning a statewide race, given the chaos in the Republican Party in that race with their endorsed candidate Will Gardner peeking past the Primary to the day he can withdraw and avoid any further embarrassment.

Josh has raised more than $80,000 and has almost $63,000 of it in the bank right now. What’s interesting about Boschee’s funds is that, unlike the Republican candidates, almost half of his money has come in small checks, under $200. Most of the Republican checks have four, and even five, numbers in them.

But with Boschee’s bank account, and the prospect of not having a candidate on the ballot in November (Al Jaeger will likely be there as an Independent), Republicans are rightfully nervous, to the point that their right-wing radio mouthpiece Scott Hennen took after the openly gay Boschee for being gay on the radio the other day, calling him a “sinner” for being gay. Better be careful, there, Scott, I’m pretty sure there’s more than one gay person on the statewide ballot, and they’re not all Democrats.

The only other statewide candidate with significant funds on hand is Brian Kroshus, the Public Service Commissioner appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum last year, with $43,500 in the bank. Kroshus’ money is an interesting case. In late 2015, he announced he was going to retire from his job as publisher of The Bismarck Tribune and run for North Dakota State Auditor in 2016, to succeed the retiring Bob Peterson.

To show he was serious, he and his partner Kim Jondahl put $96,000 into the campaign account to get it going—Brian $45,000 and Kim $51,000. That might have been enough to get elected State Auditor—if he had gotten the Republican Party’s endorsement. But he didn’t. A young bureaucrat named Josh Gallion came along and won the hearts of convention-goers and left Kroshus on the sidelines.

Kroshus had raised another $3,000 from supporters before the convention, so he had $99,000 available. But there’s a mystery. At the end of 2016, Kroshus had to file a campaign finance disclosure report, and he reported that he had only $31,000 remaining in his campaign account. Somehow he had managed to spend $68,000 of the $99,000. That must have been a pretty expensive pre-convention campaign.

Or maybe he decided he and Kim had been a little too generous with the campaign and yanked some of it back. You can do that in North Dakota, you know. For now. A ballot measure being circulated right now for the 2018 General Election would prohibit campaign funds from being converted to personal use. We’ll vote on that this fall if petitioners get enough signatures. And they’re sounding pretty confident.

Anyway, Kroshus transferred that leftover $31,000 from his Auditor’s race to his PSC campaign, and with what he has raised since being in office, he brings about $43,500 into this campaign. (Please take a look at the footnote about this at the end of this column.)

None of the other statewide office candidates have raised more than a few thousand dollars, including, surprisingly, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who reported having just $3,800 in cash on hand when the pre-primary reports were filed May 11. Surprising, because Stenehjem has been a money machine since taking office a hundred or so years ago.

And here’s something a little but mysterious about his reports, too. In his 2017 Year-end report, Stenehjem reported he had $15,005 in the bank as his ending balance on December 31, 2017. But when he filed his Pre-Primary report, he listed his starting balance, on January 1, 2018, as just $4,770, a difference just overnight of more than $10,000. Must have been one heckuva New Year’s Eve Party.

I’ve been a little critical of Stenehjem’s fundraising in the past. In his 2010 and 2014 Attorney General’s races, Wayne took more than $200,000 from the a national Republican fundraising group, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), including $150,000 in late 2013, just weeks before the Republican Attorney Generals Association split from the RSLC, possibly in part because the RSLC was taking corporate checks. When I asked Stenehjem after the 2014 election how it was possible for him to take RSLC money when the funds came from corporations, he replied that the RSLC segregated corporate contributions from personal contributions and distributed non-corporate funds to candidates who weren’t allowed to take corporate funds, like in North Dakota.  I said “Uh-huh.”

Well, anyway, Wayne didn’t need that much money to win in 2014, and had $152,000 left in the bank at the end of the year. Then he decided to run for Governor in 2016, and he transferred $145,000 of it to his Governor’s campaign, and left his Attorney General’s campaign account with about $10,000 at the end of 2016 (just in case . . . ). He added another five grand in 2017, getting him up to the $15,000 I mentioned earlier, at the end of last year. Which is now just $3,800.

Figure all that out, David Thompson. How did $10,000 disappear overnight? David is Wayne’s 2018 opponent. He needs to get his ass in gear. He reported having just $11,000 in the bank, $10,000 of it his own. Of course, like Dotzenrod, he wasn’t a candidate until March. I think he can raise a lot of money if he gets going.

Speaking of raising money, there’s a state Legislator who’s outdistanced all but four of the statewide candidates—District 35 State Senator Erin Oban, a Democrat, who appears to have almost $60,000 in the bank. She ran a big money race in 2014, knocking off Senator Margaret Sitte, and just kept right on raising funds.

She’ll need them—her opponent is a newcomer to the district, Gary Emineth, a purportedly wealthy businessman willing to spend some of his own money (he’s already written a $5,000 check to his campaign) to try to get Republican revenge on Oban, although there wasn’t a lot of Republican wailing and gnashing of teeth when Oban beat Sitte last time—she had become pretty much of an embarrassment to the party, and most Senators welcomed Erin with open arms. But political memories are short . . .

Next, I think, is House Majority leader Al Carlson with about 20 grand in the bank.

I didn’t check other Legislators, but I did check the rest of the statewide candidates. The soon to be departed and forgotten Will Gardner had raised about $12,000, including $2,500 from John Hoeven just a couple days before the news of his peeping broke. Not sure what he will do with that.

Jaeger didn’t even file a Pre-Primary report, so he must not have raised any money this year, and figured since he was not a candidate on May 11, he didn’t need to file. But he raised $12,000 last year and had that in the bank at the end of the year.

I think somebody should ask him. “Al, really, you didn’t raise a single penny for your campaign prior to the convention in 2018? Not a penny?”

Because if you did, if someone slipped you a check at the convention, and you forgot to file a report, you’re in big trouble. And you’re the elections guy, Al, it’s your office where these get filed. But as I write this on May 25, two weeks after the filing deadline, there’s no report listed on the Secretary of State’s website. The only statewide candidate with no report. Hmmmm. No wonder you lost the endorsement, Al. Dang. (Please take a look at the footnote about this below)

You can look at all the reports here.

Footnotes.

I’m not a lawyer, although I generally know my way around North Dakota’s election laws after a lot of years of working in politics. After I wrote this blog, I went wandering through Section 16.1 of the North Dakota Century Code and found two things I did not know. They are explained below.

Note 1.

I mentioned that if Brian Kroshus pulled some of the money that he and his partner Kim Jondahl  donated to the campaign, it was legal to do that. Well, it was, in 2016, when that would have occurred, but it looks like the 2017 Legislature changed the law:

16.1-08.1-04.1. Personal use of contributions prohibited. A candidate may not use any contribution received by the candidate, the candidate’s candidate committee, or a multicandidate political committee to: 1. Give a personal benefit to the candidate or another person; 2. Make a loan to another person; 3. Knowingly pay more than the fair market value for goods or services purchased for the campaign; or 4. Pay a criminal fine or civil penalty.

That’s the law today, as of last July 1, as I read it. The initiated measure I mentioned earlier just enshrines it in the State Constitution. If Brian would have done that in 2016, it was legal. Today it would not be. Got in under the deadline there, Brian.

Note 2.

Regarding Al Jaeger’s not filing a campaign disclosure statement, even if he received some contributions in 2018. Section 16.1-08.1-02.3 says this:

A candidate whose name is not on the ballot and who is not seeking election through write-in votes, the candidate’s candidate committee, and a political party that has not endorsed or nominated any candidate in the election is not required to file a statement under this subsection.

That would seem to apply to Al, since he is not participating in the Primary. It seems a little goofy that someone could seek a party endorsement, raise a million dollars, lose at the convention, and not have to report that, but that seems to be the law, and Al seems to be taking advantage of it. I’m guessing, however, he may have to report any contributions he received in his subsequent reports, the pre-General Election report and the Year-end report.

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