Possible Pay For Play Scandal Involving North Dakota Democrats Exposed In Judicial Confirmation Process

John J. McConnell is an east coast trial lawyer who once upon a time was hired as counsel by former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (strongly rumored to be a candidate for the Democrats for governor in 2012) to represent the State of North Dakota in the now-infamous state class action lawsuits against the tobacco industry. I posted before about Mr. McConnell, who has now been nominated to serve on the federal bench by President Obama, and the $2 – $3 million per year he continues to receive for his work on behalf of North Dakota (he’ll continue to get that money through 2024).

For obvious reasons, McConnel’s extensive history of political activism and support for liberal political parties and candidates is causing some heartburn during his confirmation proceedings. McConnell is an activist lawyer, or exactly not the sort of person we want sitting on the bench where the requisite is fair-minded and even-handed application of the law.

What’s interesting is that McConnell is being accused of “pay for play” arrangements with some of his clients, including Heitkamp and the North Dakota Democrat party. From a letter sent by US Senator John Cornyn to his colleagues:

Basically, McConnell got tens of millions of dollars in payouts for representing North Dakota and also just happened to make some big money contributions to both Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign and the North Dakota Democrat party. Convenient, no? I’m sure there was no connection between the two.

By the way, McConnell has never lived in North Dakota. He’s from the east coast. Outside of being employed by the state or North Dakota, by way of Heitkamp, he had no dog in the hunt for North Dakota politics.

I was writing back in 2007 and 2008 about the amount of trial lawyer money that was flowing into the coffers of North Dakota Democrats. This is the first time big-money trial lawyer money has been tied to any sort of political arrangement with the Democrats.

Regardless, this disclosure isn’t going to play well with voters should Heitkamp decide to run for governor in 2012. If she was willing to strike this sort of cozy political deal as Attorney General, assuming that’s what it was, what would stop her from striking the same sort of deals as governor?

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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