Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Dems question Laffen advertisement that uses footage filmed for oil industry ad

Democrat party officials are raising questions over a Grand Forks Republican state Senator's campaign advertisement. But the senator, Lonnie Laffen, said there is nothing wrong with the ad. Laffen's ad includes a few seconds of footage previously...

Lonnie Laffen


Democrat party officials are raising questions over a Grand Forks Republican state Senator’s campaign advertisement.

But the senator, Lonnie Laffen, said there is nothing wrong with the ad.

Laffen’s ad includes a few seconds of footage previously shot for a North Dakota Petroleum Council advertisement from last year. That ad featured Laffen as a founder of his firm, JLG Architects.

Chad Oban, the Democratic-NPL Party executive director, questioned whether the use of that footage constituted a campaign finance law violation and whether it was proper for a sitting state legislator to appear in an oil industry group advertisement.


Laffen, however, denied the use of the Petroleum Council footage was an illegal corporate contribution. He also didn’t back down from criticism for appearing in the Petroleum Council ad, arguing that he did it as a businessman.

“The oil industry is the horse that’s pulling our plow in North Dakota right now,” Laffen said. “And people need to know that.”

Questions over Laffen’s ads came to the attention of the Herald this week through a letter from Joe Kulbacki, who identified himself as the treasurer of the Grand Forks County Democrats. He later retracted the letter.

Laffen is running for re-election against Democrat JoNell Bakke, whom he defeated when he was first elected in 2010. Bakke said in a phone interview Thursday that people have raised concerns with her over the ads, but she hasn’t researched it herself to see if they constitute violations.


The North Dakota Petroleum Council ad features Laffen talking about the economic growth the state has experienced during the Bakken oil boom. It includes footage of Laffen going through architectural plans and surveying a construction site.

“Industry is setting up in Fargo and Grand Forks,” he said in the ad. “We get to elevate beyond where we’ve ever been before. And those opportunities are really driven by the economic resources flowing into our communities and state through the oil industry.”

The first few seconds of video of Laffen’s campaign advertisement appear to come from the same video shoot as the Petroleum Council advertisement. In that footage, he’s also at a construction site and looking over architectural documents.


Ron Ness, the president of the Petroleum Council, said the organization asked Laffen to appear in their ad, which ran last year. He said Laffen was not paid to appear in the ad, nor did he pay the organization to use the footage.

“It was not in any way, shape or form a political ad,” Ness said, adding that it didn’t refer to Laffen as a state senator and it ran long before the election.


Oban said it’s illegal for political campaigns to take contributions from corporations, including in-kind donations.

“To me, when an entity that can’t donate cash to a political campaign instead provides an in-kind contribution of something like footage, I think it certainly violates the spirit of the law if not the actual law,” Oban said.

Laffen said the footage itself isn’t a contribution to his campaign.

“I donated all the time and it’s in my office,” Laffen said. “It’s as much mine as it is theirs.”

Oban also questioned footage in Laffen’s ad that appears to show Laffen in a legislative committee meeting with someone he identified as an employee of the Legislative Council in the background, as well as a shot of a lawn sign in front of the state Capitol building.


Laffen countered, however, that he checked with state agencies and said it’s permitted to use that footage as long as the state seal or a uniform doesn’t appear or it didn’t cost the state money.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said this week that his office doesn’t investigate campaign finance law violations, and therefore couldn’t comment on the Laffen ads.

Mac Schneider, a Grand Forks Democrat and Senate Minority Leader, raised some of the same questions as Oban.


Laffen wasn’t shy about appearing in the ads promoting the oil industry.

“I have a right as a businessman to promote clients, promote industries, do anything I want as a businessman,” Laffen said. “It would be different if I was standing in that ad as a state senator.”

Laffen received $1,500 from the ND Oil PAC in July, according to campaign finance records. He reported $34,850 in contributions as of Oct. 3.

 “I will promote the oil industry every chance I get,” Laffen said. “That doesn’t mean I will vote everything they need and want.”


Bakke questioned Laffen’s vote for a 30 percent oil extraction tax reduction during the previous legislative session.

“That really impacts the state and people,” she said this week. “His ads will be gone in 12 days.”

Laffen countered that the extraction tax cut was only part of a bill that also included closing a loophole in the extraction tax, and actually would have resulted in higher tax revenue.

“That’s what the real bill was,” he said.

Bakke reported $3,800 in contributions at the end of September, which included $1,000 each from the local Democratic party and Grand Forks resident Christopher Grieve.



What To Read Next
Get Local