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Published November 01 2012

North Dakota campaign spending not just going to ads

FARGO - Everybody knows North Dakota’s federal candidates are racking up big advertising bills. But what about the meals? The airfare? The trips to Wal-Mart?

Beyond the big-ticket media buys and handsome consulting fees for political strategists, it costs a pretty penny just to keep a campaign running. To get an inside look at how much, The Forum reviewed the Federal Election Commission filings of the state’s four candidates in federal races.

These numbers may not tell you much about whom to vote for, but they’ll give you a window into the hectic and diverse political operations that go into winning your vote.

All numbers are through the most recent quarterly FEC filings from the campaigns.


All four campaigns racked up travel bills that would make a frugal vacationer blush. This category included transit tickets, mileage costs and hotels, among other items marked as travel.

In our review, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s U.S. Senate campaign led the way with about $75,000 in travel spending, ranging from $40 at a gas station to $1,000 plane trips. In all, the Heitkamp campaign amassed more than 250 individual travel receipts.

Her opponent, U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, spent about $32,000 on travel. His campaign’s expenditures were similar in nature – there were just fewer of them.

In the U.S. House race, the campaign of Republican Kevin Cramer spent about $44,000 getting around. His Democratic opponent, Pam Gulleson, spent about $18,000.

Meals and catering

Candidates – not to mention fundraisers – have to eat. Berg’s campaign was evidently the hungriest of the mix, spending about $60,000 on food, drink and catering. His expenditures ran the gamut from $2,000 Washington, D.C., catering bills to $67 at Sammy’s Pizza in Fargo.

Heitkamp spent about $32,000. One expenditure of note: $1,700 of candy from Heartland Candies in Hankinson, N.D.

On the House side, Gulleson spent about $21,000, with virtually none of the small-time meal receipts seen from the Senate campaigns.

Cramer was by far the leanest candidate, spending about $5,000, including receipts for just one catering event.


Dead trees – lots of ’em – are a hallmark of most campaigns, and on this front, these candidates did not disappoint.

Berg’s campaign led the way with $219,000 in printing expenditures. Heitkamp wasn’t far behind at $192,000.

The receipts don’t detail the reasons, but it’s probably a safe bet that much of that came from signs, mailers and other bulk production rather than garden variety office documents.

Gulleson ran up about $37,000 in printing costs. Cramer spent about $26,000.


Who’s winning? It may depend on whom you ask – and these campaigns have asked quite often.

Berg in particular has kept an ear close to the ground, spending about $167,000 over eight occasions to track public opinion. Heitkamp has spent far less, shelling out about $21,000 in two expenditures.

Cramer has spent about $34,000 for two polls. Gulleson has spent about $20,000.


It’s probably too late to get a job for any of these campaigns, but if you did, who pays better?

To compare apples to apples, The Forum looked at the salaries of the chief spokespeople of each campaign, all of whom appear to be paid every two weeks.

Of those four, Heitkamp spokesman Brandon Lorenz is making the most, earning $2,017 a paycheck. His counterpart in the Berg campaign, Chris Van Guilder, earns $1,846 – though that’s up from $1,464 earlier on in the campaign.

For the House campaigns, Kate Bommarito, Cramer’s communications director, makes $1,750 per paycheck. Hillary Price, who holds the same position in Gulleson’s campaign, makes $1,581.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502