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Published March 21 2012

Conservative group blasts Heitkamp

FARGO – An influential conservative special-interest group says Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s pledges of fiscal responsibility smack of hypocrisy given spending decisions she made in her tenure as North Dakota attorney general in the early 1990s.

In her bid for a U.S. Senate seat this year, Heitkamp promised to oppose congressional pay raises in light of the nation’s historic deficit.

But as attorney general in 1994, Heitkamp approved pay increases as high as 32 percent for her assistant attorneys general at a time when state leaders wanted to tighten their belts.

American Crossroads, a conservative “super PAC,” said Heitkamp’s record of “reckless spending actions speak far louder than her election-year words.”

“North Dakotans won’t be fooled by Heidi Heitkamp’s new-found rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, which they know contradicts the wasteful spending decisions she has made throughout her career in politics,” American Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson said in a statement.

American Crossroads – formed in 2010 – is spearheaded by Karl Rove, former strategist for President George W. Bush. It’s one of many super PACs that emerged after a Supreme Court ruling allowing groups to campaign using unlimited money from corporations, unions and individuals.

In response to the criticism, Heitkamp accused American Crossroads and its millionaire backers of drumming up a “ridiculous charge.”

Her spokesman, Brandon Lorenz, emphasized that Heitkamp funded the 1994 pay raises using an office budget that state lawmakers had approved.

Heitkamp’s likely Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Rep. Rick Berg – who at the time was a Fargo legislator – also approved of the budget, Lorenz said.

“This is a ridiculous charge by an out-of-state group funded by secret millionaires,” Lorenz said. “Karl Rove and his millionaire friends should not be throwing stones from glass houses.”

North Dakota Republicans, including Berg, agree with American Crossroads’ criticism.

“Unfortunately for North Dakotans, this shows that Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign will be a negative one filled with false personal attacks and partisan rhetoric that doesn’t match her record,” said Berg’s campaign spokesman, Chris Van Guilder.

In a November 1994 Forum article, Heitkamp said the pay hikes were necessary to make the attorney general’s office more competitive against lucrative private practice.

“I have absolutely no regrets about this,” Heitkamp said then. “This wasn’t done as a knee-jerk reaction to make a bunch of people around me happy. It was the right thing to do.”

Republicans at the time, including then-Gov. Ed Schafer, described Heit-kamp’s decision as “startling” and “inappropriate.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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