The January 31st deadline for filing fundraising reports with the FEC has come and gone, and still Democrat Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp’s report isn’t on the FEC website. I was talking to a reporter in the state last week who said that Heitkamp had likely filed her report in hard copy format, rather than electronically, as filing on paper delays the FEC’s ability to get information online. The delay increases the odds that Heitkam’s fundraising report will get less scrutiny from the press.
But in checking for her report today I did notice the page below from her Statement of Candidacy report filed with the FEC.
The form lists Heitkamp’s principal campaign committee, Heidi for Senate, but it also lists a group called Justice 2012 as being designated to both raise funds for Heitkamp’s campaign and to spend funds on behalf of her campaign.
This isn’t something I’ve seen before from a federal candidate in North Dakota. Who is Justice 2012?
The sort answer is that it appears to be a front group, chaired by a liberal activist named Judith Zamore who is linked to Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown, existing to funnel trial lawyer money into four Democrat campaigns including Heitkamp’s. The other three Democrats are Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
I’ve embedded a spreadsheet of Justice 2012′s donations below. Some notable contributors are Gary Paul, president of the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), Greg Allen of Beasley Allen (a trial lawyer super-firm), Lisa Blue Baron, Secretary of the American Association for Justice and Linda Lipsen, CEO of the AAJ.
This is a pretty sneaky move by Heitkamp and the trial lawyers. There is always an intense amount of scrutiny on how North Dakota candidates are funded (as there should be), and Heitkamp in particular already suffers from a well-deserved perception as being in the pocket of trial lawyer interests. Back when Heitkamp served as North Dakota’s Attorney General she appointed trial lawyer Jack McConnell as the state’s legal counsel in the class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry. McConnell, who has since been appointed to the federal bench by Barack Obama, continues to earn millions of dollars per year for his time serving as legal counsel to North Dakota and other states in that case, and contemporaneously to that appointment by Heitkamp donated tens of thousands of dollars to both her 2000 campaign for governor and the North Dakota Democrat party.
By setting up the separate fund, and co-mingling fundraising and spending among multiple candidates, it becomes harder to calculate just how much Heitkamp is benefiting from the support of liberal, out-of-state trial lawyer interests.
A deft political move, perhaps, but not exactly something that’s going to endear Heitkamp to voters who have a certain expectation for transparency and honest-dealing from their elected officials. This is especially an inconvenient maneuver as Heitkamp attempts to manufacture a campaign persona which has her portraying a down-to-earth, small-town, North Dakota Republican on the campaign trail.
“I think that our Congress has lost touch with the people of this country, and that we need reasonable voices who will represent constituents, and not special interests,” Heitkamp told Roll Call last year. That’s a hard pitch to make when you have a special campaign fund set up expressly for a special interest.