Questions on the Blurred Lines Between the Petroleum Conference and Election-Year Politics

This week, the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference (WBPC) will take place in Bismarck. The conference is hosted by the North Dakota Petroleum Council, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, and the Government of Saskatchewan – Ministry of the Economy according to the event’s website. The event is a mix of education, collarboration, and promotes the oil and gas industry in our state. All of which are fine. It is an item in an email I obtained about “tips and tricks” for attendees where something stood out. It left me with some questions.

The email sent from the North Dakota Petroleum Council to conference attendees included invites to separate “after hour socials.” Three of the four “socials” are for “candidate” for Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goerhing, “candidate” for Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, and Congressional “candidate” Kelly Armstrong. All political socials. All partisan in nature. All up for election in 2018. All of it promoted in an email from a non-profit organization that not only receives large amounts of tax dollars through grants, but is also partnered with a state agency for this conference. There are questions that need to be asked.

When you see “social” you may think “fundraiser.” The socials are opportunities for these specific candidates to raise campaign money even if it is not explicitly stated. For example, on the fourth “social” invitation – slated for the ND Oil PAC – there is a minimum requirement of $20. It is listed right on the invite found below. That money will likely be used in North Dakota politics. Candidates from both parties have been recipients of ND Oil PAC in the past. My questions for the specific candidate promotions, are they able to skirt by because they don’t ask for a minimum donation to the socials? Is the fact they’re labeled “socials” clear them on ethical inquiries? Was an offer made to have “socials” and then the Petroleum Council promotion for the other candidates in these races, Jim Dotzenrod, Kylie Oversen, and Mac Schneider?

Are taxpayer dollars granted to the North Dakota Petroleum Council through the North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Council being used to throw the WBPC? Reports indicate the Petroleum Council has received approximately $191,000 of tax dollars this year on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the last decade for education, collaboration, and promotional activites. If this conference is “hosted” by a state agency are our tax dollars being spent in promoting these “socials”?  If so, where is the line drawn between education, promotion, and political campaigning? Who draws the line?

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Council is operated, managed, and controlled by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. The same goes for the Department of Mineral Resources. Both are hosting this conference. Doug Goerhing, North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner is one of the three members of the Industrial Commission. Is his social, presumably for reelection as he is listed as a “candidate”, a conflict of interest?

This is just the latest example of blurred lines between state government, taxpayer-funded grants, and electioneering, be it direct or indirect. Similar blurred lines have been going on for years as our political climate has changed. This is just a potential peak into that political network. It is a vast network indeed. Check back for more on ND xPlains.

Invite socials included in an email sent by the North Dakota Petroleum Council to the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.