North Dakota House backs bill that would shine light on Burgum-funded campaign group

Gov. Doug Burgum, a former tech executive, gave the Dakota Leadership PAC nearly $1.4 million last year and more than $3.2 million in 2020.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum delivers a budget address to state lawmakers on Dec. 7, 2022, in the North Dakota House of Representatives.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers have advanced legislation that would compel greater public reporting from a high-powered campaign finance group bankrolled by Gov. Doug Burgum.

The state House of Representatives on Monday, Feb. 20, unanimously approved House Bill 1441, which would require well-funded multicandidate committees to disclose how they spend their campaign cash. The proposal will move onto the Senate next month.

Multicandidate committees must report their donor list, but they are not legally required to reveal which candidates they support or oppose. The vast majority of the groups registered under the designation in North Dakota are affiliated with a political party or a series of candidates, but the Dakota Leadership PAC, which derives nearly all of its funding from Burgum, is a notable exception.

Burgum, a former tech executive, gave the Dakota Leadership PAC nearly $1.4 million last year and more than $3.2 million in 2020.

The group paid for political advertisements in more than a dozen statewide and legislative races over the last two election cycles, according to a Forum News Service analysis. The governor took heat from other GOP leaders for targeting seats held by Republican incumbents, including former House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer.


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North Dakota Rep. Bill Tveit, R-Hazen, said last year he received 18 political mailers in support of his Republican challengers, Mark Pierce and Anna Novak. The mailers were paid for by Dakota Leadership PAC, a secretive political committee funded almost entirely by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.
Photo provided by Bill Tveit

Representatives of the Dakota Leadership PAC have repeatedly declined to voluntarily disclose details of the group's expenditures when asked by Forum News Service.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, would mandate that multicandidate committees publicly name the candidates or measures they support or oppose with expenditures exceeding $5,000. The groups also would have to clarify which medium they use for advertising expenditures, whether radio, mail, television, printed media or social media.

Kasper previously told Forum News Service his bill was not directly aimed at the Dakota Leadership PAC, but the conservative lawmaker testified last month that "we’ve had multicandidate committees spend upwards of $3-4 million to influence legislative races."

The Dakota Leadership PAC is the only such group in the secretary of state's online system that has spent millions of dollars since 2020, according to end-of-year reports.

Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, told the House on Monday that the bill simply aims to bring the reporting requirements for multicandidate committees in line with the legal obligations for campaign finance groups tied to corporations.

Dakota Leadership PAC Chairman Levi Bachmeier and Burgum campaign spokesman Dawson Schefter declined to comment on the bill.

The House also passed on Monday a proposed legislative study of campaign finance and election laws.

Earlier this month, lawmakers killed several bills that would have clamped down on nebulous political spending, including legislation that aimed to shine light on so-called dark money — campaign spending that comes from unknown sources.


In 2021, state senators cited a likely increase in the paperwork required of their party caucuses before defeating two bills that would have compelled multicandidate committees to disclose which campaigns they support or oppose.

Republican legislators have shown more interest in reforming campaign finance laws following the recent emergence of deep-pocketed groups, including the Dakota Leadership PAC and the Brighter Future Alliance.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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