BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota GOP Gov. Doug Burgum has shelled out nearly $1 million ahead of the state’s primary election largely to a political action campaign that historically has focused on defeating Republican far-right candidates or those who do not agree with his spending initiatives and policy goals.
The second-term governor has given $935,000 to the Dakota Leadership PAC, according to campaign filings. The contributions continue a trend by the wealthy former software executive of reaching deep into his own pockets in an effort to help elect legislators more obliging to his wishes.
In 2020, Burgum contributed more than $3.2 million to the political action committee, headed by Levi Bachmeier, Burgum’s former policy director. Burgum also contributed more than $1.3 million to his own campaign two years ago, as well as donations ranging from $500 to $25,000 to about 20 incumbent and first-time legislative candidates.
Burgum has declined interviews with The Associated Press to talk about his campaign spending. His office has referred questions to his campaign staff and the PAC.
“We are grateful for the Governor’s continued support of Dakota Leadership PAC. Our mission remains to elect conservative Republicans who share the governor’s vision to strengthen North Dakota’s economy,” Bachmeier said in a statement Monday.
Burgum, 65, 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’s political spending has drawn widespread criticism within his own party. It included an unsuccessful attempt two years ago 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’s spending, which has flooded the airwaves and internet with advertising backing his candidates, also has made some lawmakers fearful that if they cross the governor in any way they’ll be targeted by him.
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” and control “runaway spending.”
Campaign filings this year do not yet show which candidates are being supported by Burgum’s PAC, though it’s nearly certain it will be many of those running against state lawmakers and candidates linked to the ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus, as was done in the past.
Jared Hendrix of Minot is helping or heading campaigns of several candidates or lawmakers linked to the group. Hendrix said that, while legal, Burgum is crossing the separation-of-powers-line by his big-dollar donations.
“It’s a First Amendment issue and he has the right to express his opinion with his money,” Hendrix said. “But such heavy-handed influence is something for voters to think about.”
Burgum spent money even before being elected. In 2016 and just ahead of the Republican nominating convention, Burgum sent checks to several legislators, but many of them returned the money after news reports surfaced.