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Kevin Cramer, Published June 04 2012

PSC political contributions about constitutional rights

The rights to express political views and a free press are fundamental to the protection of civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment.

So why would The Forum suggest contributions to my campaign received from executives of a coal company are improper? (Editorial, June 1). When confronted with two candidates, one hostile to coal development, the other supportive, why should one view be denied the opportunity to influence the election with contributions to the candidate of their choice?

I would never suggest the large contribution from a Dakota Resource Council attorney to my opponent’s campaign is improper, or the very large contribution from the family of one of the biggest pipelines in the country is illegal. It is the donors’ constitutional right to contribute to whomever they support.

The freedom The Forum enjoys is not only guaranteed by the Constitution, but enhanced by transparency. The contributions they criticize were received and publicly disclosed prior to the election. The voters vetted the candidates and spoke overwhelmingly by electing me. The issue was settled at the polls.

Now extreme leftist political groups are suing me and my colleagues along with the Interior Department with neither the law nor the facts to support them. They have not actually served any of us with a complaint, meaning there is no lawsuit. They’ve only shared their legal action with reporters gullible enough to lend it credibility by giving them ink and face time.

In their criticism, The Forum claims “the facts are not in credible dispute.” They claim I received campaign contributions from “coal companies, including South Heart Coal Inc.” I have not. That would be illegal.

The potential lawsuit names coal companies, utilities, their political action committees and employees of the various companies, and lawyers representing various industry interests. According to the plaintiffs and The Forum, none of these North Dakota citizens have the right to contribute to candidates who share their philosophy. If they have their way, the only people who could contribute to Public Service Commission candidates would be people who agree with the agenda of the anti-fossil fuel fringe. All others are guilty of crimes against humanity.

They also claim the secretary of the interior and PSC are guilty of failing to perform their duties by not submitting policy memos for Office of Surface Mining approval. Although not required by law, we have always sent policy memos to OSM. We also send copies of the memos to the DRC, who has never requested OSM to formally approve any policy memo.

I agree with The Forum on one point. I welcome the lawsuit with complete confidence it will be thrown out. Donors to nonprofit groups charged with protecting the environment will have their contributions used on a political stunt rather than to build a case against a coal mine. Taxpayers will foot the bill to defend federal and state agencies that have much higher priorities than dealing with such frivolity. But lawyers and newspapers will do well, and their constitutional rights are important, too.

Cramer is a North Dakota Public Service commissioner and unendorsed Republican candidate for the U.S. House.