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Published September 19 2012

GOP rips Heitkamp on contributions

FARGO – State and national Republicans called on Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp on Wednesday to return campaign contributions made by a law firm that has represented groups opposed to “fracking,” an oil extraction method crucial to North Dakota’s energy boom.

As of Sept. 3, Heitkamp had received $22,400 in contributions from New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg, making it the second-largest contributor to her campaign after law firm Motley Rice LLC.

On Wednesday, the North Dakota Republican Party called on Heitkamp to explain why she accepted the donations and why she has refused to return them.

“Heitkamp’s willingness to accept thousands in campaign cash from extreme anti-drilling, anti-fracking, New York City environmentalist trial attorneys shows North Dakota where her true allegiance lies,” state GOP chairman Stan Stein said in the release.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also urged Heitkamp to return the donations.

Heitkamp, who spoke Wednesday at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting in Medora, doesn’t plan to return the money, campaign spokesman Brandon Lorenz said.

“North Dakota has been fracking for years. Heidi believes fracking rules should stay local because that’s what’s best for North Dakota, and she has committed to putting staff on the ground in Oil Patch communities that have been neglected for too long by (U.S. Rep.) Rick Berg,” he said, referring to Heitkamp’s Republican opponent.

Speaking at the industry meeting Wednesday, Heitkamp said she submitted a letter to the Bureau of Land Management regarding its draft rule on fracking.

“Why would we turn this over to the EPA?” Heitkamp told the group. “It’s irrational policy. It’s wrongheaded.”

Heitkamp’s campaign called her a champion for the state’s energy industry, noting that since 2001, she has served as a director of Dakota Gasification Co., a subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative that operates the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, a coal gasification plant near Beulah.

Weitz & Luxenberg’s website has a page dedicated to legal resources for those whose property and health have been impacted by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but the site says it’s for informational purposes only and the firm is no longer taking fracking cases. A message left for the head of the firm’s environmental group wasn’t returned.

Forum Communications reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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