The War Over Pipelines: Heidi Heitkamp Has Big Financial Ties To Warren Buffett


After a catastrophic, but thankfully not deadly or injurious, train derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, right before the holiday the need for pipeline infrastructure has been put into sharp focus. Pipelines are, without a doubt, a safer way to transport oil. They’re not perfect – as North Dakotans saw earlier this year when a Tesoro-owned pipeline dumped about 20,000 barrels of oil on the ground near Tioga – but one thing pipelines never do is derail.

All railroads run through population centers (western society was built around the railroad), whereas pipelines tend to avoid population areas. And while oil leaking isn’t good for the environment, a leak is far less deadly than a train coming off the rails.

But the build-out of pipeline infrastructure has been hampered by politics. The Keystone XL pipeline project, which could take roughly 10% of the Bakken’s current output, has been on ice for years as the Obama administration has dithered at the behest of noisy left-wing anti-fossil fuel activists. The Sandpiper project, which could take as much as 25% of the Bakken’s current output and will soon be getting public hearings here in North Dakota, has faced heavy opposition from activists in Minnesota.

The obstruction of pipeline projects has been a boon for the rail industry. According to the Association of American Railroads crude oil rail shipments increased 42% from the 3rd quarter of 2012 through the 3rd quarter of 2013. In North Dakota, specifically, oil-by-rail capacity has increased a whopping 2,873% since 2008:

chart_1 (2)

A big beneficiary of this ramp-up in demand for rail services is Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, owned by outspoken Obama supporter Warren Buffett (it was BNSF trains that derailed near Casselton). Buffett bought up BNSF in 2009, shortly after President Obama was elected, and it is widely speculated that the President’s opposition to the Keystone XL project is a very profitable favor to Buffett.

But is North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp also making good on that favor?

Heitkamp campaigned on the Keystone project, promising voters that she would “stand up” to President Obama on the issue. But since taking office, Heitkamp has been anything but a leader on the issue. Earlier this year when President Obama ridiculed the economic impact of the Keystone project, prompting a fierce response from North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, Heitkamp was largely silent. She spends little time talking about the issue these days.

She does about the minimum required to maintain her status as a Keystone supporter, but little more.

Why was Heitkamp so outspoken about Keystone during her campaign, but so softspoken on the issue now that she’s in office?

Maybe this has something to do with it: Warren Buffett himself maxed out contributions to both Heitkamp’s pre-primary and general election campaigns:



Also, according to Senate financial disclosures, Heitkamp owns between $166,004 to $415,000 worth of stock in Buffett’s company Berkshire Hataway (Senate disclosures are weird, reporting ranges for values of assets instead of specific dollar amounts). And Berkshire Hathaway employees were among Heitkamp’s top-ten sources of political contributions in the 2012 cycle, according to

When it comes to the fight over pipelines, is Heidi Heitkamp more loyal to the promises she made to her constituents, or the financial interests of billionaire Democrat money man?

Maybe that’s something the Senator needs to explain.

Neither of North Dakota’s other two members of Congress – Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven – received any personal contributions from Buffett, nor do they own any interest in Buffett’s company. Senator Hoeven did, during his 2010 race, get $18,000 in contributions from Berkshire Hathaway employees, though that appears to be the only connection between Hoeven and Buffett.

Rob Port is the editor of 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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  • ec99

    I presume Heidi owns BRK-B stock, since BRK-A closed yesterday at 177,900 a share. Buffet’s an interesting guy. As a multi-billionaire people wonder why he would favor higher taxes on the rich. The reason is simple: his salary is a paltry 423K a year (compare with the CEOs of Ford, Boeing, CAT, etc.). His true wealth comes from the fact he owns 26,675,175 shares of BRK-A. On his death that money will be endowed to a charity status, thus untaxable.

  • Goon’s ND Redneck

    Heidi is a poser, that said whatever it took to get elected and now she has fallen in line with the LIberal Democrats that she works with. Big shock? Of course not, because “some” of us knew before hand that she was a big spending, big government liberal that approves of Obumble’s agenda. Of course she ran a dirty campaign and smeared Rick Berg to be this big slim ball…. Of course if the fawning media had taken any time at all they would’ve discovered that Heidi Heitkamp is a huge fraud.

  • NoDak for Life

    It looks like you connected the dots. Heidi was for the Keystone pipeline before the election but goes mostly silent since. Good observation. Hoeven has carried the Keystone issue forward, but where is Heidi?

    If after the BNSF disaster at Casselton Heidi does not come our swinging hard for pipelines to move oil, we will know she sold out to Warren Buffett, Obama’s BFF. Buffett made billions on stopping the Keystone and other pipelines, forcing oil on trains. This is an Obama payback for Buffett’s vocal support, max contributions and many fund raisers for Obama. He will protect BNSF profits.

    Meanwhile thousands of people could be employed constructing pipelines to transport oil in rural areas instead of trains transporting oil through towns. Pipelines rarely have major fires associated with them,but train wrecks do. There must an engineering flaw in the design of oil rail cars as so many have caught on fire. Bet the Obama administration will never investigate.

    Buffett is reported to spend $10 M a year on lobbyists, as well as his maxed out checks to Democrats. Nothing like corporate cronyism with the Obama administration to help make really big money. Obama cares more about the 3rd richest man in the world than the working people who could use the construction work.

    • ep

      Pipelines are safer than rail cars as evidenced by recent derailments. My concern now is the catastrophe if there’s a derailment or collapse of the a railroad bridge over the Missouri river. The Liberty Memorial bridge carrying vehicles over the river had to be replaced due to deterioration. How often is the rail bridge inspected and who does it? The stress on that bridge is now a lot more due to oil shipping.

    • SusanBeehler

      Buffet has endorsed the pipeline.

      • NoDakNative

        Buffet says a lot of things. He also claimed he doesn’t pay enough in taxes while structuring his income to avoid paying taxes.

        • two_amber_lamps

          Hmmmm…. Cognitive Dissonance anyone?

  • Del

    I am not interested in how many licks it takes to get to the
    center of a tootsie pop, I am more interested in how many time Democrats have
    to lie to people before they quit believing what they say.

    • SusanBeehler

      I am not interested in Rob’s dot to dot he licks to play with omitting crucial information such as Buffett is for Keystone.

      • del

        Do you mean like how Dorgan, Pomeroy and Comrade were for drilling in ANWR but the democrats could count on their votes to defeat it every time they needed them?

      • NoDak for Life

        Yup, Buffett did an about face after Buffett investing $500 M into the Alberta oilsands this fall for a good stake in Calgary’s Suncor Energy. And it was announced on 12/31/13 that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway invested $1.4 B for Phillips Specialty Products – a unit of chemical firm Phillips 66 – that makes chemicals to improve the flow of fluids through pipelines.

        Buffet was against it before he was for it….. just watch the money trail…. You are the one omitting crucial information.

        • ec99

          As I said, the 1.4 billion is being paid in Phillips stock, which BRK received when Conoco spun the company off.

  • two_amber_lamps

    But, but…. Heidi’s an Independent… according to her ads anyways! Does this mean the ND’ers who voted for her were…..


  • kevindf

    Warren is just trying to assuage his guilt; the Heitkamps don’t feel a need for that.

  • awfulorv

    Played like a fiddle, by outside political contributers again, were you?
    You less populated states have got to enact laws which will prevent being bought by rich interests, every election cycle.

    It would also help if the Republican candidate didn’t consider himself a shoe-in, and would take his, well deserved, I’m sure, time off after the campaign was over, rather than during the race.

  • toomuchguvmint

    Heidi understands how the Chicago way works very well and obviously Warren Buffett does as well considering his support of Obama. See

  • Randy G

    She is a Heitkamp, she lies, like all of them. Bought and paid for, she could care less about any North Dakotan…Until campaign time again.

  • Lynn Bergman

    According to Peter Schiff’s “The Real Crash” published in 2012, Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway salary was $524,000/year. Buffet paid $6,925,200 in personal income tax, a rate of 17.4%, on total income of $39.8 Million..
    His 37% share of Berkshire Hathaway was worth just over $7 Billion on which the company paid just over $2 Billlion in corporate income tax.
    Summary: Buffet’s persona plus corporate income = $7.07 Billion
    Buffets total income taxes paid = 2.077 Billion
    Buffets’s average income tax rate paid = 29.4%
    But Buffet claims his secretary pays a higher tax rate (as much as 25%) than he does…
    Liberals lie.

    • ec99

      Schiff has pretty much been discredited by the investment community.

    • SusanBeehler

      Are you Buffet’s accountant? I am supposed to believe your figuring of Buffett’s income tax rather than the illustration Buffett made about the rich not being tax proportionate to what they make when compared to a more modest salary such as his secretary? How do I know you are not the liar, where are your records of his income and his tax? I thought Republicans were for the free market and making money or is that just for Republican business owners, if someone is a democrat or voted for a democrat president they are not suppose to invest in businesses in the market place?

      • Guest

        Google “CBO distribution of federal taxes” and see who is really paying the taxes. For those to unwilling to investigate this, the federal tax rates are very progressive.

        • SusanBeehler

 from what I see individuals not corporations pay the greatest percentage of our taxes.

          • Guest

            And yet all of that “corporate income” ends up the hands of individuals who pay taxes on it. Plus, if you look at the MN tax incidence study, you will find that most all corporate taxes are ultimately paid by low-income individuals via high costs for stuff and lower wages.

            I hope you read the rest and saw just how much (with all federal taxes considered, not just federal income taxes) higher the tax RATE is for the top 10%, and then higher for the top 5%, and then higher for the top 1%.

  • SusanBeehler

    Maybe you don’t know as much about oil as you should Rob,you seem to have missed this in your story Warren has endorsed the pipeline, he has just invested buying shares in a company producing chemicals to help the oil flow in pipelines.

    • ec99

      A brilliant move on his part. Buying the Phillips 66 company with Phillips 66 shares he owns. No real cost to Berkshire.

    • two_amber_lamps

      Lol… silly SuzyBProg…. you ARE as dull as you pretend. Even a dyed in the wool leftist like Buffet is going to hedge his bets. If and when they take the oil off his trains eventually (ie pipeline) he still wants a piece of the action (ie selling them said chemicals).

      Sounds like the actions of a mercenary to me…. not that I care except for the fact that the leftists he donated his $$ to have consistently obstructed the most efficient way to transport ND’s products… much to Warren’s benefit, under guise of environmental protectionism and all the other cock and bull excuses leftists have dredged up to make the construction of the Keystone as onerous as possible.

      • SusanBeehler

        Buffet is a pretty good gambler if that is what you think he is. I personally think he is a wise business man. He has not obstructed the carrying of the oil, the railroad infrastructure was already in place to haul the oil, just as the trucks are available to transport. Pipelines have to be built they were not in place. Railroads were already here. As a business man Buffet saw the need and provided the means to get that oil to the refineries, if he would not have done so, the oil boom what not being moving as fast as it is. Business men cannot wait around for the political world to move their preferred method of conducting business in the marketplace, a true capitalist business owner responds to the market they don’t wait around for the government to approve something if they can meet the need in another profitable way. This is not left thinking it is business thinking. What billion dollar company to do you own or have shares in? You are the one who seems to have a pretty dull business sense.

        • sbark

          I’d say is safe to assume that Buffet receives inside info……that he then gets to act on well in advance——-that is called cronyism in exchange for support of the Regime……..not business acumen.
          Him buying into a Chem Co for oil flow…is a good sign that XL will be built. Its a sign he got notice from the Regime that sooner or later they will allow XL to be a go.

        • JoeMN

          Business men cannot wait around for the political world to move their
          preferred method of conducting business in the marketplace,


          Does this include ethanol ?

          Solar and wind manufacturers ?

          Explain the hoards of lobbyists turning DC in to the wealthiest city in the US, Susan


          Pipelines have to be built they were not in place


          Canada took 6 months to approve the pipeline

          The plan to build Keystone was submitted to regulators on September 19, 2008,

          What is five years worth of delays to Keystone worth to Buffet's bottom line ?

          Furthermore, this delay insures only the big players will survive in the end.

          • Dakotacyr

            I guess Bush should have approved it on his way out…I wonder why he didn’t.

          • Rob

            Because that was more than five years ago now, and the review of the project that that point was still legitimate.

          • two_amber_lamps

            That ol’ “hate bush” meme never gets old, does it DakotaCrybaby?

        • two_amber_lamps

          Let me sort through your leftist sniveling… there’s got to be a rational thought in there somewhere?

          Alas, not a one to be found.

          Your boy’s Buffett’s been buying politicians (Hidey) who used to support the Keystone, and now mysteriously are apathetic towards the project… the very project that may have averted this tragedy.

          No… I’m sure Buffett didn’t buy Hidey’s vote to make sure the oil kept getting shipped via rail….

    • Drain52

      Buffett has investments all over the place, anywhere he thinks it’s profitable presumably. But he does have a huge pile of money invested in BNSF, he has contributed heavily to Heidi’s campaign, and Heidi has gone quiet on the pipeline. It’s reasonable to wonder if there’s a connection among these three facts.

      • Rob

        It’s not just the campaign contributions. Heitkamp has a big personal investment in Berkshire Hathaway, BNSF’s parent company.

  • SportsDoc

    Buffet’s buying of BNSF has some interesting issues, not the least of which is that by imminent domain all rail lines owned by BNSF include a 50′ wide right of way for the lines themselves. This seems like plenty of room for BNSF to build their own pipeline within the imminent domain territory it owns. More importantly, and I do not know the answer to this, does this include the ability to bypass EPA regulations because the imminent domain has already been established?

    Either way, the owning of the land needed for a pipeline is already accomplished for Mr. Buffet, literally border to border and almost coast to coast.

  • awfulorv

    3555 Famam st. is it? He’s damn lucky most home invaders can’t read, and are horrible with numbers.

  • awfulorv

    That was an explosion, the disaster will take place when an explosion occurs near a residential area, on an afternoon when mothers are picking up their children from a nearby pre-school.
    And perhaps a hundred, or so, unlucky souls will be incinerated.
    And it will happen, somewhere, sometime, when we least expect it, it’s the law, Murphys law…

    • ec99

      This already happened in Canada…took out a discotheque.

    • awfulorv

      And when it happens the bodies can, and should, be laid at the feet of Obama. He, and the wacko environmental yahoos who support his recalcitrance on the pipeline, will be responsible for the disaster…

  • Dakotacyr

    One thing rail transportation does is not risk water contamination. How many oil spills in ND?

    • Rob

      Right. Because railroad tracks never run over rivers, or near lakes, or anything like that.

      And you can link to that report all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of this spills were tiny and at places where spills are prepared for.

      But it is interesting that you Democrats are suddenly anti-pipeline. I mean, Heidi campaigned on Keystone. Quite the about-face.

      • Dakotacyr

        Actually, I simply like to point out your hypocrisy in supporting a pipeline with out citing the numerous pipeline spills in North Dakota.

        Heidi still supports the Keystone, so where is the about face? You are an all or nothing person.