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Burgum campaign criticizes radio interviews, calls them 'deliberately deceptive'

Pat Finken

The gubernatorial campaign for Fargo businessman Doug Burgum raised criticisms Monday over radio interviews conducted by a paid consultant for the campaign of his opponent, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

A statement from Burgum campaign spokesman Robert Harms argues that Pat Finken, president of the media firm Odney, failed to disclose during a stint as guest host on the What's On Your Mind show Monday morning that he is working for the Stenehjem campaign.

"During this time they carried on the facade of a legitimate programing while orchestrating two hours of prearranged guests and callers who both promoted the Stenehjem campaign and attacked the Burgum campaign," Harms said. "That's the type of deliberately deceptive, good-old-boy style politics that made Doug want to run for governor."

Finken, who said he is a media consultant for the campaign, told the Herald Monday afternoon that his relationship with Stenehjem is well-known.

"I did disclose during the course of the show my relationship, that I am a friend, a supporter, and it's been disclosed before that I also am assisting the Stenehjem campaign," he said. He also said there's a difference between news programming and talk radio programs.

In a follow-up statement, Finken called the Burgum campaign's claims "ridiculous and petty."

"I have been a guest host on a variety of radio talks shows over the years including frequent appearances on the What's On Your Mind radio show," he said. "I do so out of a love for politics, not because I am on someone's payroll."

Federal Communications Commission filings show Odney placed advertising orders for Stenehjem this year.

'Abundantly clear'

Finken said there's no legal or regulatory disclosure required of a guest or guest host, and he said that talk radio show hosts often share their points of view.

"That said, I did make it abundantly clear that I am a supporter and had offered the fact that I am working for the Stenehjem campaign in previous appearances on the talk show," he wrote. In an April 6 appearance as a guest host, Finken was introduced as a consultant to the Stenehjem campaign before he interviewed Stenehjem and his running mate, state Sen. Nicole Poolman, according to an online recording.

But Harms said federal rules mean "the public is entitled to know whether they are listening to a bona fide news program, and when they're listening to a paid political advertisement."

In his statement, Finken added that he "would be happy to disclose my relationship with the Stenehjem campaign in any future appearances."

Scott Hennen, the regular host of What's on Your Mind, said Finken's working relationship with the Stenehjem campaign has previously been disclosed. He added that he would welcome a Burgum campaign adviser to host the show if they showed the radio skills to do so.

"During this time, if (Finken) is talking about the Stenehjem campaign, it only makes sense to let people know that he is an adviser to the Stenehjem campaign," Hennen said.

Hennen added that both Burgum and Stenehjem will be on the show, which he said is broadcast on four stations across the state, this week.

"We're glad to have Pat on board, and, if it's that important to their campaign, I'm sure Pat would be more than happy to disclose his relationship to our campaign on future talk show appearances," a statement from Stenehjem's campaign manager Nate Martindale said.

Disclosure

Burgum and Stenehjem are in the midst of a heated battle for an open governor's seat on the Republican side of the aisle. Incumbent Republican Jack Dalrymple is not running for another term.

Stenehjem won the Republican Party's endorsement at the state convention in Fargo earlier this month, but Burgum is going to the primary election in June. Burgum has been running television ads critical of "career politicians" and pointing to North Dakota's $1.1 billion shortfall.

Monday morning's radio interviews included discussions with state Rep. Roscoe Streyle and Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm, both Stenehjem supporters. Streyle discussed the state's budget and criticized Burgum for running "dishonest" ads, while Hamm's segment included talk of a Burgum advertisement that claims Stenehjem supported the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

"There's no question that he's not a supporter of the law," Hamm said.

At one point of the show, Finken noted a listener who emailed into the show felt it was "lopsided" and not fair to Burgum.

"The voters of North Dakota are getting deluged with well over $1 million, probably $1.5 million worth of advertising, just to make this point," he said during the show, according to recording available online. "Part of what the show is about today is to give the Legislature a chance to weigh in on this and talk about what happened and why they're where they're at, and it's not nearly as dire as maybe you might get led to believe by the paid advertising piece of this."

Later in the show, Finken said he got a text from a Stenehjem supporter wondering if he should disclose "the fact that I'm a Wayne supporter."

"Well, I guess that would be kind of obvious, but I thought I better disclose I am a Stenehjem supporter for a lot of reasons," he said. "One is that I've known the guy since the '70s, we were friends since we were kids and this is a quality guy. But for full disclosure, just in case there was any question: I am a Stenehjem supporter."

This post has been updated to correct Harms' job title. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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