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Published October 26 2010

North Dakota PSC candidates spar over contributions

BISMARCK – Kevin Cramer’s campaign reports show “a disturbing pattern” of accepting money from companies and executives affected by his decisions as a Public Service Commission regulator, his Democratic challenger said Monday.

In turn, Cramer called the attacks “desperation at best” and said Brad Crabtree’s reports show a “far more disturbing pattern” of funneling money from Washington, D.C., “without any accountability attached to them.”

Crabtree sent a news release to the media saying certain campaign contributions made to Cramer “threaten the independence and integrity of the PSC and its decisions.”

Crabtree specifically pointed to $9,800 from Corbin Robertson and his wife, of Houston, saying Robertson is managing partner of Quintana Capital Group.

Quintana owns Great Northern Power Development, which has sought a mining permit from the PSC for a lignite coal mine near South Heart.

Crabtree also said Cramer accepted $7,800 from the political action committee and top executives of Florida Power & Light. Subsidiary NextEra is a wind energy developer in North Dakota, and the siting of its wind farms falls under PSC jurisdiction, Crabtree said.

Cramer’s campaign received $4,800 in contributions this year and $3,000 during 2007-08, Crabtree said.

Throughout the campaign, Cramer has said he regulates with a light touch, Crabtree said.

“How are we as North Dakota voters to know whether that light touch is because of the contributions he’s received?” Crabtree said.

“There’s nothing wrong with money from industry, but money from industry where they have a direct benefit from the outcome of a particular case, that is corruption of the regulatory process. It happens to be legal in North Dakota, but it still corrupts the process,” he said.

Cramer said Crabtree has received $75,000 “laundered through Washington, D.C.”

“If he thinks that laundering his money through the Democratic Party makes him clean, I guess I’d take full transparency over that any day,” Cramer said.

He said he would expect people making investments in North Dakota to support a regulator who “regulates without bias as opposed to somebody who brings as much ideological baggage to the table as Brad Crabtree does.”

Cramer pointed to $2,500 in contributions Crabtree received from connections to Kinder Morgan, described on its website as “one of the largest pipeline transportation and energy storage companies in North America.”

“On the one hand, he criticizes me for taking from companies, and then he does exactly the same thing, and somehow that’s OK,” Cramer said. “All you have to do is look at my record. If there’s any place in my record that you can tie a contribution back to a decision I made, then you might have an issue. Until you can do that, he has no issue.”

Referring to his Washington, D.C., contributions, Crabtree said he won’t be regulating Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy if elected to the commission. As for Kinder Morgan, Crabtree said he knows the contributors through his family and said the company doesn’t have any business before the North Dakota PSC.

Crabtree said North Dakota has “terrible regulation of campaign finance” and said state legislators should take a hard look at it.

Cramer’s report lists his total of all contributions at $164,541.39. Crabtree’s is $155,413.40.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.