Tribune editorial: Burgum roils his party with PAC donation

Tribune editorial: Burgum roils his party with PAC donation

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Republicans have become so dominant in North Dakota that they are apparently reduced to fighting among themselves.

Gov. Doug Burgum has been drawing criticism for contributing $195,000 to the Dakota Leadership PAC, which is headed by two of his former policy advisers. One of them, Robbie Lauf, told The Associated Press in emails that the PAC was formed to “help elect conservative Republicans who share the governor’s vision.”

So far, the PAC has raised $400,000 with contributions from out-of-state donors and two of Burgum’s relatives.

Lauf said the PAC supports candidates in six campaigns and one for state treasurer. Lauf didn’t identify the candidates, but the PAC has sent mailers and run TV ads supporting David Andahl and Dave Nehring in District 8.

Andahl and Nehring are trying to unseat Rep. Jeff Delzer, who has served in the House since the 1990s. Bob Wheeler also is running for the House in District 8.

At times, Burgum has had a testy relationship with the Legislature. Some legislators weren’t happy during his campaign for governor when he was critical of the Legislature. Burgum and the Republican-dominated Legislature have quarreled over the governor’s veto powers during the last two sessions.

Burgum was unhappy with Delzer during the 2109 session when he helped engineer a change in rules to basically ignore Burgum’s budget proposal and use the Legislature’s last budget as a starting point. Delzer wields a fair amount of authority as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Republican reaction to Burgum’s donation has been negative, with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert saying “the governor has overstepped his boundaries by funding a campaign against (an incumbent) House member.”

Burgum’s donation to the PAC doesn’t appear to be illegal, but it goes against political parties’ efforts to keep disputes in-house. It’s not unusual to donate to candidates, but not in contested races for the nomination. Some feel Burgum is trying to use his wealth to buy support in the Legislature.

District 8 members nominated Andahl and Nehring for the House, and Delzer and Wheeler decided to carry the fight to the primary.

While the Tribune editorial board understands the concerns that Burgum may be trying to use his checkbook to sway the election, it’s good to see the conflict out in the open. Too often, political parties try to hide internal differences, leaving the public without background on how policy is developed.

It’s also a battle between the executive and legislative branches of government, both controlled by Republicans. It could get messy for the GOP if Burgum makes a habit of trying to oust Republicans who don’t agree with him. Messy for them, but interesting for voters.

Whether it could splinter the party remains to be seen.

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