FARGO – A recent CBS News investigation of lavish retreats where businesses and trade groups pay to talk with state attorneys general revealed North Dakota’s top law enforcer recently attended one.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was at the retreat put on by the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, on Kiawah Island, S.C., in April.
Stenehjem said he and his wife attended the event with all expenses paid by RAGA, a political organization similar to other groups, including the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Stenehjem’s opponent in the November election, Democratic-NPL candidate David Thompson, wasted no time criticizing the retreat.
Thompson’s campaign put out a news release stating this was not a work trip for Stenehjem, but a vacation paid for by corporate lobbyists.
Stenehjem said if his opponent is elected in November, he’s certain Thompson would attend such meetings put on by his own party’s attorneys general organization.
Stenehjem said RAGA has contributed small amounts to his re-election campaigns in the past.
“They haven’t been a big donor because I haven’t had tough races. I don’t anticipate receiving much this time around either,” he said.
CBS reported some companies attending such retreats are under investigation by state attorneys general, but still donate for access to AGs to make their case.
It is legal for such a company to give money to an attorneys general political association that funds campaigns. In turn, it's legal for those associations to provide access to company lobbyists.
Rubbing shoulders with a state attorney general doesn't come cheap. For an invitation to the retreat, lobbyists had to fork over $125,000, CBS reported.
Activities on the event itinerary included golf, a dolphin tour and yoga on the beach.
CBS reported that selling access to events like this has helped RAGA raise more than $20 million in the last year and a half – twice as much as Democratic counterparts.
In reviewing 88 donations of $50,000 or more to RAGA, CBS found 46 of those donors had matters under consideration by a state attorney general or had recently settled.
In May, Stenehjem announced North Dakota had joined a coalition of states in filing lawsuits against drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma for its role in the ongoing opioid epidemic in the U.S.
Asked whether any of those pharmaceutical representatives were at the event on Kiawah Island, Stenehjem said he didn’t recall that they were.
If any were in attendance, did he speak with him?
“No, not about our litigation,” Stenehjem said, noting that wouldn’t be proper.
He said the focus of most of the RAGA events is to get more Republican Attorney General candidates elected, and most of the discussion involves federal overreach.