The organized efforts to influence the 2012 race here reflects the competitive draw of North Dakota’s open Senate seat, one of many at stake that could potentially tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate next year.
Each campaign attacks the other for the partisan connections of their financial backers, but neither candidate admonishes nor outright praises the extra dollars they themselves are benefiting from.
This outside fundraising support goes beyond Berg’s and Heitkamp’s own campaign efforts and enters an arena where special-interest groups with no stake in North Dakota are helping bankroll the 2012 election here.
The major difference between Berg’s and Heitkamp’s outside fundraising assistance is how exactly they’re getting it.
Berg stands to benefit tangentially from a newly formed super PAC, one of many independent fundraising committees that can raise unlimited dollars for or against specific candidates.
The Freedom Pioneers Action Network super PAC operates wholly separate of Berg’s campaign, so Berg has no involvement in the super PAC’s efforts.
“There is no coordination between this group and the campaign, and we have no knowledge of what their plans are,” Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said.
However, the mere formation of the super PAC suggests Berg will undoubtedly gain from whatever dollars the super PAC raises and spends during the next seven months.
“We cannot control what outside groups will do,” Van Guilder added, without answering whether Berg supports the super PAC being formed to his benefit.
Meanwhile, Heitkamp is using the help of six joint-fundraising committees, which her campaign directly authorizes to help raise dollars on her behalf.
In contrast to the unlimited nature of super PACs, though, joint-fundraising committees operate under the same financial limitations and reporting requirements as a candidate’s own campaign.
“By and large, these are … dedicated to supporting the historic number of women candidates that are running for Senate this year,” Heitkamp spokesman Brandon Lorenz said. “North Dakota has not elected a woman to the Senate, and Heidi is a candidate in a position to change that.”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised so far from these joint contributions, a feat Heitkamp personally helped with through her participation in fundraisers alongside other female Democratic Senate candidates.
Those women’s notoriety, influence and presence helped draw more dollars in Heitkamp’s direction than she might otherwise collect on her own.
Behind Berg’s super PAC and Heitkamp’s joint committees are influential political insiders, whose body of work demonstrates their skillful knowledge of campaigns.
The treasurer for the Freedom Pioneers Action Network is Justin Brasell, a longtime Republican political strategist.
Most recently, though, Brasell came on board as a general consultant to South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem’s re-election campaign, and he’s also a strategist for the Bluegrass Votes super PAC, which is supporting McConnell’s upcoming re-election run.
The super PAC’s first report shows no income yet, but the group did spend more than $2,300 on initial legal services from a GOP-linked firm.
Heitkamp’s campaign does not have any knowledge as to whether a super PAC is in the works to her benefit, Lorenz said.
Lorenz did not answer whether Heitkamp would support such a super PAC being established for her, but he was quick to decry Berg’s ties to one.
“What we’ve seen in Congressman Berg is someone who will vote with his next election in mind and vote with his party leaders regardless of how it impacts North Dakota,” Lorenz said. “Now we see his own party leaders rewarding him with a super PAC.”
Heitkamp’s six joint-fundraising committees are similarly connected to Democratic Party insiders, but Heitkamp’s most significant boost comes from a fellow Senate hopeful
Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono is a beneficiary and partner on four of the six joint committees Heitkamp has ties to. The National Journal and other political publications have often ranked Hirono as more to the liberal end of the political spectrum.
Heitkamp has benefited the most to date from one of Hirono’s joint committees: Justice 2012, which has raised more than a million dollars so far, almost exclusively off the pocketbooks of attorneys.
Heitkamp, a lawyer by trade and former attorney general, is among four Democratic Senate hopefuls who received $69,000 from Justice 2012 in the first quarter of this year.
Heitkamp and Hirono have established their own joint committee – the Heitkamp Hirono Victory Committee – in preparation for sharing in future fundraising, Heitkamp’s campaign said.
Heitkamp’s fundraising trips with the other female Democratic Senate candidates account for the four other joint committees she’s linked to.
In March, Heitkamp spent a day each in Colorado, California and Washington to help raise campaign dollars to promote women seeking U.S. Senate seats this year.
FEC filings show Heitkamp received $32,700 from the fundraising tour, the fourth-highest amount among the 11 women who participated in the four West Coast appearances.
Berg’s campaign said Heitkamp’s national fundraising tours are evidence of her lock-step loyalty to national Democrats.
“By fundraising with far-left Barbara Boxer on the West Coast … Heidi has made it clear that she would be another blank check for the failed Obama-Reid tax and spend agenda,” Van Guilder said.
Duane Sand, a Republican Senate candidate who will challenge Berg in the June primary, is not associated with any joint-fundraising committees or super PACs.