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?


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.

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  • yy4u2

    Would be interesting to hear her school girl brother spin this one…if one could actually stomach listening to him that is.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, i’m not sure what good explanation there is for it. They can say it’s just a coincidence, but who is going to believe that?

  • opinionated

    The photo at the SEIU rally in the Michael Jackson jacket will be enough…

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, joking aside, that’s another reason why Heidi wouldn’t be a great candidate. She’s gone way far to the left. Her fist-pumping MC gig at an astroturf pro-Obamacare rally in Fargo that was orchestrated by the unions isn’t going to play well with voters either.

      • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

        Especially when ND is a right to work state and we don’t have a lot of UNION thugs in this state.

  • whowon

    Yet the Dems scream for campaign reform at every turn. For me but not for thee!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Funny how that works isn’t it?

  • ec99

    I get the impresssion the Heitkamps view themselves as the Kennedys of ND.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Maybe, but there’s just the two of them.

      • ec99

        I believe there’s a third, Thomassina, but she eschewed politics.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Ah. Didn’t know that.

          • ec99

            She taught something at UND. May be retired now, not sure.

  • mark

    And so this election cycle smear campaign has begun. May 3rd, 20011. Heitkamp couldn’t win in Nodak today anyway. The State continues it’s inexorable slide towards being the Alabama of the north, and no “progressive” could win here anyway. Next you’ll say that Hoeven and Schaffer never got big contributions from out of State interests either. It’s an interesting story, but by itself it really means nothing.

    • 308T

      How is it “smearing” if it’s true? Joel and Heidi are about as phony as they come, I wouldn’t trust either one of them as far as I could toss them.

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Well it’s a smear when it’s inconvenient for your politics in guess.

    • VocalYokel

      This story is more than “big contributions from out of State interests…”

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Right. The contributions themselves are undoubtedly legal. In fact, there may not be any Lego wrong doing here at all. But ethically? This stinks.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      This is more than out of state money. This is Heitkamp and Democrats getting what amounts to kickbacks.

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

      You sound like a bumbling idiot, since when is being conservative a bad thing? I like how all of these Liberals States are broke and out of money and yet they continue to slam states like Alabama. Last time I checked they were broke like California.

  • Jimmypop

    im guessing the fargo forum is going to be all over this?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Oh im sure. Any minute now. You can probably start holding your breath.

  • I H8 GOPers

    The exercise of free speech will sometimes coincide with capitalistic ventures. I mean, we’re not talking about Koch-style-puppetry here. Welcome to America.

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

      You must have gotten the Koch reference from the Daily Kos because you’re not smart enough to come up with that one on your own… I like now leftards bag on the Koch brothers but they have no problem with George Soros and that evil son of a bitch.

      • I H8 GOPers

        Who is “that evil son of a bitch” that you referred to after George Soros?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, first, quid pro quo arrangents witg elected leaders is hardly capitalism.

      Second, I’m sure it was just a coincience that this guy dumped money on all the races of the politicians who also just happened to hire him to do millions and millions of dollars in legal work.

      Just like I’m sure it was a coincidence that this guy got nominated by Obama after donating half a million dollars to the President’s inaugural committee.

      • I H8 GOPers

        People who care should be encouraged to contribute and participate. The Kochs contribute to manipulate.

        Liberals = Liberty!

  • sbark

    ……1st thing about a Liberal……plausible deniability is the first item considered in any action…..

    ……..no big 3 amigo’s connections here? You’d think Dorgan, Pommy and the Fiscal Hawk would’ve wanted “retribution” for any big Tobbacco shakedown votes or legislation……

    I mean really, if their gonna do something “for our own good” anyways…………

  • Frank V.

    Wow….a Democrat feeding state dollars to groups that then give kick-backs to support their election. Who would have ever thought??!! For all their do-gooder posturing, the Dems have the morals and ethics of your average loan shark.