There is a great deal of concern right now that corporate and far right ideological interests are concentrating tens of millions of dollars in an effort to defeat progressives in primary races. With some degree of cooperation from House Democratic leadership-- including coordination by Brooklyn scumbag Hakeem Jeffries-- AIPAC, crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried (Biden's #2 donor and the DCCC's #1 donor), Mark Mellman's Democratic Majority for Israel, and a sleazy anti-progressive, Wall street-funded PAC set up by Jeffries and reactionary Blue Dog Josh Gottheimer are targeting progressive candidates with a tidal wave of sewer money to pay for a campaign of lies and smears. A few, like Summer Lee (PA) and Jamie McLeod-Skinner (OR) have been able to resist; most, like Erica Smith and Nida Allam of North Carolina have not.
But did you know that the conservative Republican establishment is also using massive financial campaign manipulations in trying to overcome opposition from the far right, neo-fascist wing of their party? Obviously, McConnell and all his affiliated SuperPACs are at the forefront of trying to keep fascists from winning GOP Senate nominations, but a less noted case came to light this week when North Dakota Governor Dog Burgum, a garden variety conservative establishment creep, was exposed funneling his own money into campaigns against fascist members of the North Dakota state legislature.
Burgum, a multimillionaire self-funder, has funneled millions of dollars of his own into a PAC he started in 2020. His former staffers run it for him and it only gets far right Republicans, no mainstream conservatives and no Democrats. His main enemy is a group of neo-fascists, led by Rep. Rick Becker, who call themselves the Bastiat Caucus, which is dedicated to drowning government in a bathtub-- and to gun worship. Last January, when Becker, a power-hungry plastic surgeon who intends to run for governor, announced he would not be running for reelection to the legislature, the Associated Press noted that In the conservative state where the Republicans have supermajorities in both houses and hold every statewide office, Becker has relished in being redder than red. Just this week, the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based American Conservation Union gave Becker the only perfect rating for conservatism in North Dakota, he said."
There are a couple dozen members of the legislature who are now members of the Bastiat Caucus, although it does not release a membership list. Becker told the media that "the emergence of the Bastiat Caucus has splintered the state party in the past decade, in what he called a civil war between the far right and rank-and-file Republicans. The intraparty fight came to a head last year over the successful recall a legislator and member of the ultraconservative caucus accused of sexually harassing women at the state Capitol. Of 80 House Republicans, 55 voted to expel Luke Simons. Some GOP lawmakers were formally condemned at the district level for backing the expulsion and one was the the subject of an unsuccessful recall. The incident has caused some ultra conservatives to seek to control the party apparatus and replace Republicans they see as too moderate."
Jack Dura, reporting for the Bismarck Tribune, wrote yesterday that Burgum is focused on 8 districts "and at least some GOP incumbents in those districts feel targeted and believe his contributions are unconstitutional. Four lawmakers held a press conference Thursday in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol, right outside the governor's office, to voice their concerns. Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, who is not running for reelection, spoke, calling Burgum's actions 'improper' and 'likely illegal.' Becker cited intent in the state constitution that 'legislators must be free of coercion, menace and threats from the governor so as to avoid any undue influence. The governor's actions are so broad and so impactful that they do indeed constitute a threat to legislators,' Becker said. Burgum and his supporters say he's exercising his free speech rights."
Filings show Burgum so far this year has given $935,000 to the group chaired by his former policy director, Levi Bachmeier, who said the group doesn't comment on its strategy or process.
The governor in a statement said, "Supporting candidates who best understand what it takes to protect our freedoms, strengthen North Dakota’s economy, cut red tape, and continue moving our great state forward has been a focus of mine for decades. Dakota Leadership PAC has earned my support because they are promoting healthy competition in Republican primaries, which ultimately empowers voters with more choices and greater transparency."
Bachmeier said in response to the lawmakers' allegations, "Gov. Burgum is a fierce defender of the constitution, and he is a strong supporter of our nation's hard-fought freedoms. The First Amendment is very clear."
Governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki provided reporters with legislative testimony citing free speech rights for a governor to endorse and make contributions to a legislative candidate.
The Tribune has confirmed the Dakota Leadership PAC is targeting political ads in Districts 8, 15, 19, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39, including the state's northeast, southeast and southwest corners, the Bismarck area and coal country.
Becker and Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, said they aren't immediately filing a lawsuit over the constitutional question and instead are asking Burgum to stop his Dakota Leadership donations.
"I personally am hoping that he just respects the people of the state and stops trying to be a tyrant and dominating over everybody," said Magrum, who is in a primary challenge for the Republican nomination for District 8 Senate. Dakota Leadership is supporting his opponent, Rep. Dave Nehring, R-Bismarck.
Becker said, "We're giving the governor an opportunity to do the right thing. Should that not happen, we'll have to review our options."
Reps. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Gwinner, and Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, also spoke. Ertelt is running for District 28 Senate; Hoverson is seeking reelection in District 3. The four lawmakers are aligned with the ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus, which Becker founded.
...The lawmakers' allegations might be worthy of taking to court to clarify the state constitutional provision, according to University of North Dakota Professor of Political Science & Public Administration Mark Jendrysik.
Burgum isn't barred from donating to the group or making campaign contributions, actions protected as free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
"This is a really interesting question, and I'd love to see it go to court, honestly," Jendrysik said. "It would be a really important thing to clarify just how far a provision forbidding this sort of thing goes, whether it has any effect, given recent Supreme Court decisions ... I think it would very useful to see what our courts would, what the federal courts might say on this."
He considers what the lawmakers' intent is, however: Do they want to embarrass Burgum or are they asking a serious question about how far the governor as a private citizen can work to influence elections?
"I'm not sure what their goal is here, what their plan is, but I think honestly they would be doing the state a service if they would push this into the courts and a get a ruling on just what this provision means today, who does it apply to, is it even constitutional under recent Supreme Court decisions?" Jendrysik said.
The Supreme Court has been clear that "bribery is like handing people bags of money, and campaign contributions are a very different thing," he said.
He acknowledged the scale of Burgum's spending is likely what frustrates the lawmakers whose seats the Dakota Leadership PAC is targeting. "By North Dakota standards," Burgum's resources are "immense," he said.
"I think that the scope of his resources does change the equation, but I think in legal and moral terms it doesn't matter," Jendrysik said. "I think if he gave $10 or $10,000 or $10 million, the principle is the same."
Burgum has downplayed his donations as nothing unusual in politics, citing previous instances of executive branch officials and legislators supporting each other in elections.
But Democrats and Republicans have criticized the perception of Burgum attempting to buy a friendlier Legislature. Jendrysik said, "It's perfectly reasonable to think the governor wants people in office who would support his goals, absolutely."
Bachmeier said the criticism is unfair.
"Candidates we're supporting are both newcomers and incumbents to the Legislature," he said. "We're for competition and we're for choice for North Dakota's voters, and we are supporting people who are best-aligned with that vision, regardless if they have no experience in the Legislature or several sessions."
Yesterday, reporting for The Hill, Reid Wilson interviewed Rob Port, author of the Bastiat Caucus blog, Say Anything, who told him that "The Trump movement has sparked a big divide in the party between the populist culture warriors and traditional Republicans." Jared Hendrix, a GOP district chair aligned with the neo-fascists, told him that "Trump is one factor. It does have a lot to do with that, even with folks that have gotten involved since the 2020 election. But it’s much bigger than that. Burgum took a big-city approach to North Dakota politics that we haven’t seen in a long time. To his credit, he’s got money, he hires the professionals, he does the polling, he does what he needs to to get elected... We have a 7-1 Republican majority legislature. Last session, they shot down every election integrity bill, they shot down every single significant tax relief bill in the middle of a pandemic."
Frédéric Bastiat was a reactionary 19th Century French economist who is worshipped by the far right today, even though he would he said it is morally wrong for government to interfere with an individual's personal matters, a problem that splits the GOP in half and is at the heart of the party's current civil war-- not just in North Dakota, but everywhere.