A bill that would prohibit a North Dakota governor from giving cash or endorsing a member of the Legislature is getting a cool reception from both GOP and Democratic legislative leaders.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Jeffery Magrum comes after GOP Gov. Doug Burgum contributed millions of dollars to several candidates in elections last year in an attempt to remove some incumbents from his own party.
Magrum, an incumbent who was targeted by Burgum in the June primary, said Burgum, a wealthy former software executive, crossed the separation-of-powers-line by reaching deep into his own pockets to buy a Legislature more obliging to his wishes.
“Even if he isn’t it does look like he is,” Magrum said of Burgum buying his own Legislature. “The optics are bad.”
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor typically does not comment on pending legislation and would not on Magrum’s bill.
Burgum gave more than $3.1 million to a political action committee that targeted several legislative seats. Most of Burgum’s cash was spent in a failed attempt to defeat fellow Republican Jeff Delzer, over Delzer’s opposition to him on budgeting matters. Delzer continues to head the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert signaled it was unlikely he would support Magrum’s bill.
“Political contributions are freedom of speech,” Pollert said.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee said he and his fellow Democrats, who are badly outnumbered in the Legislature, probably won’t support the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said the bill probably would not make it over to his chamber.
“I won’t support it,” Wardner said. “I think it tries to encroach on someone’s privacy rights. The governor has privacy rights, too.”
Magrum said Burgum’s willingness to spend millions of dollars to back certain lawmakers has created a chilling effect in the Legislature.
“I believe he has created a fear in the Legislature that he may target them next,” Magrum said.
Burgum has been criticized before for pulling out his wallet in a perceived attempt to curry favor with lawmakers. In 2016 and just ahead of the Republican nominating convention, Burgum sent checks to several legislators, and many of them returned the money.
Burgum was not endorsed by his fellow Republicans but went on to win in the primary that year.