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062718.N.FF.CRAMERSPENDING

David C. Thompson, a Grand Forks Democrat running for state attorney general, accused Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., of violating campaign finance rules at a press conference Tuesday in Fargo. He was using a Park District meeting room but the district is not involved. 

FARGO — David C. Thompson, a Grand Forks Democrat running for state attorney general, has again taken aim at Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., accusing him of “corruption,” specifically improper reimbursements to himself with his Senate campaign funds.

How is it possible with his busy schedule in Congress that Cramer and his campaign manager and wife, Kris, could rack up mileage payments for 3,090 miles of travel over 43 days, Thompson said at a press conference Tuesday.

He said he has filed a complaint about this payment and others with the Federal Election Commission.

Though Thompson isn’t running for Senate — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is — he said he’s long been concerned about money in politics and has made the issue central to his attorney general campaign.

Thompson, an attorney by trade, said he’s been concerned about Cramer specifically since Cramer was on the state Public Service Commission, which regulates coal and other industries.

Cramer’s campaign responded with a statement: “This stunt by the North Dakota Democrat Party is nothing more than cheap political theatrics intended to distract the media and voters from the President’s visit tomorrow. The campaign uses a professional compliance firm to monitor and file all reports and is in full compliance with all FEC rules and regulations. The nasty and personal tone of this attack shows just how desperate the Heitkamp campaign has become.”

President Donald Trump is scheduled to campaign for Cramer Wednesday.

Cramer campaign spokesman, Tim Rasmussen, declined to answer specific questions.

“I don’t want to get into details and specifics into something as silly as this,” he said.

Heitkamp’s campaign said it doesn’t have anything to add.

Three allegations

According to Thompson’s complaint, Cramer’s campaign reimbursed him $1,152.75 for travel during the first quarter of 2018 and his wife was reimbursed $531.38. At the federal mileage rate of 54.5 cents per mile, that’s 2,115 miles for Cramer and 975 miles for his wife.

For comparison, a round trip to the state’s largest cities, including Fargo, Dickinson, Williston and Grand Forks, is 836 highway miles taking around 13 hours, according to Google Maps. At that rate, it would’ve taken the Cramers 48 hours of nonstop driving to go 3,090 miles.

Isn’t that doable in three months?

Thompson said technically a quarter is three months, but Cramer only announced he would run for Senate in mid-February. At any rate, Congress was in session for most of the first quarter so it’s hard to imagine Cramer could find time for that much travel, Thompson said.

The complaint also said Cramer was reimbursed for $253 for “per diem” meals, which suggested Cramer considered the payment a kind of stipend, or salary, not allowed under campaign financing rules. That is, Cramer wasn’t reimbursed for the cost of a meal but for a flat daily amount regardless of actual cost.

Cramer’s campaign filings with the FEC shows the $253 was for 16 meals, or $15.81 a meal. But he’s also filed for per diem meals in other instances and those have varied from $17 to $20.

The complaint finally said Cramer was reimbursed after the deadline had passed.

Cramer’s campaign referred to a March 2013 story in the Grand Forks Herald about a judge dismissing a Dunn County petition drafted by Thompson that sought to investigate Gov. Jack Dalrymple for bribery. The governor took campaign contributions from the oil industry, which he regulated as a member of the state Industrial Commission.

The judge said the petition didn’t have enough signatures from qualified voters and the county was the wrong venue.

The suggestion from Cramer’s campaign was that Thompson has a history of being involved in frivolous complaints.

Thompson referred to an October 2013 Herald story in which a federal judge dismissed complaints of conflicts of interest against public service Commissioners Cramer and Brian Kalk because state courts have jurisdiction. Both contributions were from industries they regulated.

According to Thompson, who was involved in the complaint, the key part of the story was what U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland said in the footnotes: “This order should in no manner be construed as an endorsement of the practice of PSC Commissioners accepting campaign contributions from individuals or political action committees closely associated with coal companies and coal mining activities.

"Although the acceptance of campaign contributions from such entities may be lawful ... the decision to do so is ill-advised, devoid of common sense, and raises legitimate questions as to the appearance of impropriety.”

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