Cozy Relationships Between North Dakota Industrial Commission and Lobbyist Groups Questioned by Measure 1

While lobbyists have poured money into opposing North Dakota’s anti-corruption measure, some of those same organizations and councils have been pouring your tax dollars into their own projects. In some cases, those special interest groups have such a cozy relationship with state government and elected officials they aren’t even required to report exactly how they spend your money. Millions of tax dollars to subsidize their operations, influence you, and then keep you in the dark about it. This alone should make you look seriously at Measure 1 on election day.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council has pumped $60,000 into opposing Measure 1. The Petroleum Council, led by Ron Ness, has been very successful in getting what they want when they want it from North Dakota government. Fine reductions, lower tax rates, and lax oversight from the Industrial Commission while receiving millions of tax dollars from that same Commission. The Industrial Commission has given the Petroleum Council millions for the “ND Oil Can!” and “Energy for North Dakota” campaigns touting the benefits of the industry through advertising and outreach.

While receiving tax dollars from the Industrial Commission, the Oil PAC has donated large chunks of campaign contributions to North Dakota Governors, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goerhing. Earlier this year, the North Dakota Petroleum Council urged people to attend a “social” for Doug Goerhing’s reelection in Bismarck. Did any of this political activity influence the oversight and decision making of the elected members of the Industrial Commission?

It isn’t just the Petroleum Council. Lignite groups also have a very cozy relationship with North Dakota government. They too are granted millions of tax dollars to promote their industry. Try finding out exactly how and where they spent your tax money on their pet projects. Legislators on an interim committee tried to get this information in March 2018. Even legislators were denied the information regarding how your tax dollars were spent. They’ve seemingly been able to shield themselves from full transparency by claiming how they utilized tax dollars is proprietary information. Apparently, if they told the public it would harm the industry they claim. Lignite related groups have donated $175,000 to oppose ethical government.

Collectively, those same special interest groups and their members have donated tens of thousands to reelect members to the Industrial Commission. Doug Goerhing and Wayne Stenehjem are up for reelection. You can view their campaign finance reports by clicking their names. Keep the same rules and keep the same people.

Imagine for a moment other non-profits and organizations receiving this type of cozy treatment from North Dakota government. Many organizations and non-profits receive grant money from North Dakota. Yet, they are held to a higher standard in what is required to be reported. For example, organizations that assist people with disabilities don’t get the luxury the coal industry does. Non-profits who receive tax dollars typically need to report exactly how that grant money was utilized. Those organizations don’t hide how they put your money to work because they know it is ultimately the public’s money. They aren’t allowed to. They also typically don’t donate thousands upon thousands of dollars to get candidates elected to oversight positions. Why does it seem like these large special interests receive special treatment from elected officials? They are trying desperately to maintain that special treatment by opposing measure 1.

Tyler Axness
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