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Christopher Bjorke, Forum Communications, Published July 12 2012

Taylor: Governor should say ‘no’ to oil industry donors

GRAND FORKS – The Democratic candidate for North Dakota governor criticized his opponent Thursday for taking campaign contributions from officers of energy companies doing business in North Dakota, saying they could influence how the governor performs his regulatory role.

Ryan Taylor, the state Senate minority leader, said Gov. Jack Dalrymple should return or give to charity money his campaign received from those donors.

The governor is chairman of the state Industrial Commission, which regulates oil drilling and other extractive businesses. Taylor said money from donors with business before the commission creates a conflict of interest and has the appearance of influence buying.

“They are the ones that approve permits each time a company wants to drill a well,” said Taylor, who described the state’s oil boom as creating “$600 billion worth of temptation and risk.”

Dalrymple’s campaign said 80 percent of his contributors have given $100 or less. A statement from the campaign said the governor had supported stricter regulations on oil companies while on the Industrial Commission.

“If you want to look at the Industrial Commission’s specific actions, he’s toughened regulations,” said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Godfread.

Influence questions

Taylor, speaking Thursday at a press conference at UND, singled out Dalrymple’s acceptance of $25,000 from John Hess, chairman and CEO of Hess Corp., and $20,000 from Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources. He also pointed to contributions Dalrymple received through a fundraiser held in conjunction with the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May.

Taylor said he would not accept money from donors that could have business before the Industrial Commission.

According to a statement from Godfread, during Dalrymple’s term, the Industrial Commission required disclosure of chemicals used in drilling and imposed a ban on open pits at well sites. He has also prevented drilling on some tracts of environmentally-sensitive land.

Taylor said his biggest donor is from the group Friends of Kent Conrad, which according to campaign fundraising reports, contributed $40,000 to Taylor in 2012. While those donations could have originated with a variety of donors in various parts of the country and represented a variety of interests, he said the separation between the donors and the candidate reduces their influence.

As to whether restrictions on donations from energy interests would infringe on individuals’ rights to have a voice in politics, Taylor said energy company executives already have many opportunities to present their views to politicians.

“Their voice doesn’t need to be tracked by dollar signs,” he said.

With the amount of money being made in North Dakota through oil, he said there is a need to regulate where donations to Industrial Commission members come from.

“I think times have changed in North Dakota in terms of how important these things are,” he said.

The Industrial Commission consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of agriculture.

Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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