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Published July 16 2012

Forum editorial: Oil money is buying something

When it comes to taking campaign money from oil companies, Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer is either naïve or so cock-sure of himself that he sincerely does not see his self-made problem. The North Dakota public service commissioner won the June primary over the party-endorsed candidate and will face Democrat Pam Gulleson in the November election.

A revealing examination by Forum reporter Kristen M. Daum (Monday, page one) listed sources of campaign money for North Dakota’s Congress candidates. Cramer was not alone among Republicans in accepting campaign donations from oil companies doing business in North Dakota (42 percent of his total, thus far), but his remarks about the donations set him apart. Regarding cozying up to oil execs, he said:

“Those relationships demonstrate a working knowledge of the major issues of the day, and they’re illustrative of the work I’ve done to position myself as a person of influence.”

How’s that? While he might be in danger of inflating his own importance as “a person of influence,” he has it backwards. The influence he assigns to himself will work the other way. The money is flowing to him from the oil and gas industry because the industry wants to influence him.

Here’s more:

“They’re (oil executives) not buying access. It’s not a quid-pro-quo. They are not paying for position; they are paying for victory for someone whose position is more in sync with theirs.”

Really? Cut through the double-speak and just a tad of clarity demands a little truth. They are buying access to a man who might be the state’s next congressman. And if Cramer wins? When an oil man who pumped a few thousand dollars Cramer’s way is on the line, Cramer will take the call. If Joe Six-Pack who gave maybe $5 – or nothing – makes that same call, chances are he won’t get through to Cramer.

Let’s be clear: No one is suggesting Cramer is dishonest. He honestly believes what he says about special interest money in his campaign. He will defend the practice of not only taking money from big oil, but also taking money from executives of mining companies that have business before the Public Service Commission.

There is nothing illegal about any of it. But what’s legal is not necessarily what’s right. Cramer’s enthusiastic embrace of big bucks from oil and gas executives (and his close relationship with some of them) doesn’t seem to comport with the much-ballyhooed ethical foundation of “the North Dakota way.” Or does it? And if it does, North Dakota is no different than anyplace else.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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