BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Former software executive and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has shelled out more than $1 million ahead of the state's primary election, with only a fraction of that sum for his own re-election bid, campaign disclosure reports show.
The first-term Republican has given $875,000 to a political action campaign that is largely focused on unseating a member of his own party and one of the state’s most powerful legislators, campaign filings show. With Burgum’s money, the Dakota Leadership PAC has raised more than $1 million, mostly from out-of-state donors, filings show.
Separately, Burgum has contributed $100,000 to his own campaign so far and $42,000 to about 20 GOP incumbent and first-time legislative candidates, filings show.
Burgum’s freewheeling political spending has drawn widespread criticism within his own party, especially his non-subtle attempt to unseat GOP House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer, who has clashed with Burgum over policy and spending priorities throughout the governor’s first term.
Burgum, 63, is a small-town North Dakota success story with an MBA from Stanford. He mortgaged the family farm near Arthur to join a startup, Great Plains Software, in 1983. Later, as CEO, he took the company public in 1997 before selling it to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion, then ran Microsoft’s business software division from Fargo.
Burgum succeeded in being elected governor in 2016 by running as an outsider, bucking what he called the “good old boy” party establishment and vowing to “reinvent state government.”
With his resounding primary victory over longtime state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who had the GOP convention’s endorsement, Burgum cruised to victory that November in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic governor for more than a quarter-century.
Burgum, who faces no primary challengers this year, is a heavy favorite over Democrat Shelley Lenz, a veterinarian and political newcomer who has raised less than $72,000 to date, fillings show.
Robbie Lauf, Burgum’s former policy adviser and the head of his first election campaign, has said in emails that the PAC was formed to “help elect conservative Republicans who share the governor’s vision.” Lauf said it’s supporting candidates in six legislative campaigns and state treasurer.
The PAC is supporting a pair of Delzer’s challengers, David Andahl and Dave Nehring, with mailers and TV ads in a mostly rural district north of Bismarck. It also is supporting for state treasurer Fargo businessman and GOP Rep. Thomas Beadle, whom Burgum has endorsed for the agency that has just seven employees.
Beadle is facing GOP Rep. Daniel Johnston, a self-employed Army veteran from the tiny town of Kathryn in eastern North Dakota, who is seen as a member of the far-right wing of the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Johnston has gotten support from North Dakota U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer and, remarkably, from President Donald Trump, who mentioned Johnston in a tweet Sunday, calling him “a true conservative.”
The state treasurer manages cash for North Dakota agencies and distributes some tax collections to local governments. It’s the smallest state office headed by an elected official but the treasurer also sits on powerful state boards with the governor, including one that oversees state land management.
The office has survived numerous attempts over the years to abolish it and distribute its duties among other agencies.
Beadle was one of 18 lawmakers in 2017 who supported a move to dissolve the office.