BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s multimillionaire Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has tapped a personal friend and professional fundraiser from Chicago to help get donations for the state’s new governor’s mansion, even though a committee says it needs no help.
But while Burgum might be instrumental in helping the project reach its financial goal, some worry his involvement also creates the potential for donors who might think they’ll get something in return.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor asked Pam Kinsey of PKL Consulting to volunteer to help raise the money, fearing private donations necessary to finish the project may not be met.
“The governor essentially is trying to save taxpayers from footing the bill for the balance,” Nowatzki said.
Kinsey worked on Burgum’s successful campaign and the governor’s inauguration, where $215,000 was raised mostly from oil-related and energy companies, and where two oil company officials got to sit next to the new governor at a dinner for $25,000 each.
Kinsey called Burgum a close personal friend.
“I support anything he wants to do for the state,” she said. “There is nothing in it personally for me.”
Kinsey said she wants to work with the committee, not apart from it. She said she had not made any calls seeking donations yet.
“I’m just trying to be value-added to what they are doing,” she said.
The Legislature two years ago approved construction of a new $5 million governor’s home, stipulating that $1 million be private donations. Construction on the 13,500-square-foot home began last September, with completion scheduled by this Thanksgiving.
The Legislature did not set a deadline on when the balance must be achieved, Capitol Facilities Manager John Boyle said.
Jim Poolman, a former GOP legislator and state insurance commissioner and Bismarck businessman, and Rep. Pamela Anderson, a retired banker from Fargo, have headed a group to raise private money. Poolman said the group has raised more than $650,000, and he’s confident the balance would be raised by the time the new mansion is complete — without Kinsey’s help.
“I’m proud of our committee’s work and I’m proud of the non-political way we are going about our business,” Poolman said.
The group raised $10,000 in the past week from one corporate donor, Poolman said. Donations include $10,000 each from former governors John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple, and from Burgum. He is the ninth chief executive to reside in the current 57-year-old dwelling that officials say has security issues, is not accessible for people with disabilities and likely contains lead paint, mold and asbestos.
GOP Sen. Rich Wardner, the Senate majority leader, called it bad optics for the governor to ask someone from outside North Dakota to help raise money for what is often referred to as “the people’s house.”
“With an outfit outside of the state, you just wonder if there are strings attached?” Wardner said.
Lawmakers defeated measures to build a new mansion in two successive legislative sessions before finally agreeing. The requirement that part of the money come from private sources was seen as a way to gauge public interest.
Rep. Tracy Boe, a Democrat from Mylo, was among the most outspoken critics of using private donations to build the home. He said it takes dollars from other charities and “gives the illusion the governor’s mansion is for sale.”
Anderson, the Democratic lawmaker who serves on the fundraising committee, said she doesn’t mind Kinsey’s help.
“If she’s willing to do some help, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Anderson said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”
Burgum, who was elected in November, earlier tried to pay himself for additions such as a heated garage floor. Lawmakers criticized the move, saying the new governor doesn’t get to change anything just because he’s willing to pay for it.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson said he doesn’t feel strongly about Kinsey’s involvement. He said she would likely provide some fundraising horsepower because big donors associate her with the governor.
“It’s really hard for people to say no when governor asks for something,” Carlson said. “That’s the way politics works. If he hits the goal, I’m OK with that.”