You’ve flipped the channel to avoid the repeated attack ads. You’ve removed the numerous dark-colored fliers from your mailbox and deposited them directly in your trash. You’re even counting down the hours until the bombardment of political ads stop. This year, perhaps more than ever, those ads aren’t coming from the candidates themselves. Don’t kid yourself, the candidates benefiting from the garbage ads are thankful they’re circulating and getting your attention. Those ads are primarily coming from “dark money” groups and from political action committees (PAC). If you’re tired of it, demand campaign finance reform in the 2021 legislative session.
Dakota Leadership PAC
Let’s revisit the Dakota Leadership PAC. According to the Secretary of State’s website, Governor Doug Burgum has contributed approximately $3 million to his PAC since the beginning of this election cycle. NDx covered the PAC routinely during the June Primary election. The PAC was successful in defeating House Appropriations Chair Jeff Delzer, and Kevin Cramer endorsed candidate for Treasurer Dan Johnston. The heavy hand of a rich governor has changed how politics is done in North Dakota.
In the general election, the PAC hasn’t slowed down. They aim to help Kirsten Baesler get reelected to the Department of Public Instruction. They have sent mailers – created with an out-of-state vendor – in support of NDGOP legislators in tough reelection races. And recently the PAC released an entirely disingenuous attack ad against Treasurer candidate Mark Haugen. Perhaps Burgum is worried about losing his preferred candidate, Thomas Beadle in the race that continues to be the battle of the NDGOP. Haugen has been endorsed by a number of Republicans including Kevin Cramer’s wife.
Here is the troubling part of this operation. A very wealthy governor is funneling millions of dollars through a PAC he created to purchase friendly legislators, cabinet members, statewide office holders, and put his thumb on the scale of a ballot measure. That isn’t to say some of the political positions the PAC has taken are in the completely wrong. For example, their opposition to measure 1. The question the ND residents need to ask themselves is whether or not they’re comfortable with our political business being conducted this way.
Brighter Future Alliance
The Brighter Future Alliance has spent over $253,000 throughout this election cycle in ND. The Alliance is considered a “dark money” group because legally they do not need to report the source of their money. Though it sounds shady, it is perfectly legal because of US Supreme Court decisions. That doesn’t mean states are powerless in bringing transparency to their elections.
I wouldn’t hold your breath of changes being made in this section of darkness. Mostly, because legislators benefit from this type of orginization. Take for example Senator Dick Dever of Bismarck. Dever is one of the most vocal proponents of the atrocious legislative power grab of Measure 2. He claims he is bothered by “out-of-state” influence a.k.a. money in ND politics. Yet, when interviewed about the increased use of “dark money” in ND, Dever claimed he isn’t concerned. How consistent, Senator.
This election cycle, the Alliance successfully challenged and removed Measure 3 from the ballot. They have been pouring resources and mailers into competitive legislative races. There were over a dozen mailers sent to at least one district supporting the Republican candidates and attacking the Democrats. From my observations the work of this group seems to be replacing the heavy lifting of the candidates and political parties themselves. It also provides them cover to be incredibly nasty in their more weak arguments.
Sure, we can be glad the USPS is getting some business. The problem is not knowing the origins of the “dark money” used to fund these ads. Who is giving their money to this group – knowing it will not be publicly reported – instead of providing transparency to the candidates and parties themselves?
If you were frustrated with how ND politics were conducted in 2020, make it known. Demand transparency from legislators in 2021. The work to bring transparency to ND politics starts at the ballot. Go to vote.nd.gov to figure out your election day polling location.
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