WILLISTON, N.D. – A petition seeking a Dunn County grand jury investigation of Gov. Jack Dalrymple has “baseless” accusations and is politically motivated, his campaign office said Thursday.
Amanda Godfread, communications coordinator for the campaign, said allegations contained in the petition that oil industry contributions Dalrymple’s campaign accepted could be considered bribery are “completely untrue.”
“It’s obvious that it’s politically motivated,” Godfread said. “There’s no connection between contributions to the governor’s campaign and a decision made by the three members of the Industrial Commission.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the district court of Dunn County has decided how to handle the petition submitted Wednesday afternoon with 173 signatures.
Lisa Guenther, clerk of district court, said Wednesday that state’s attorney Ross Sundeen planned to review the documents before the petition could be considered filed.
Guenther and Sundeen did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. A court employee said late Thursday she was unsure if the petition had been accepted.
David Thompson, the Grand Forks attorney who drafted the petition, said Thursday he considers the petition to be filed and he believes the state’s attorney is obstructing the citizen-led process.
“Mr. Sundeen should do his job and get out of the way right now,” Thompson said.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Thursday that Sundeen contacted his office for technical guidance about the rarely used statute that allows citizens to petition for a grand jury investigation.
“I’m not aware if it’s ever been used,” Stenehjem said. “That’s why Ross had questions.”
Stenehjem said it’s his understanding that the petition will be filed in Dunn County and assigned to a judge.
“I think it’s on its way to being filed in due course,” Stenehjem said. “He (Sundeen) was just being cautious to make sure he was doing it right.”
Thompson, an active Democrat, researched the Republican governor’s campaign contributions after a conversation with Ellen Chaffee, the lieutenant governor candidate on Democratic challenger Ryan Taylor’s ticket.
Thompson and his colleague, Erik Escarraman, wrote a report that makes bribery allegations connecting $81,600 in campaign contributions from the oil industry to the North Dakota Industrial Commission approval of a Dunn County oil development. Dalrymple is chairman and one of three voting members on the Industrial Commission.
The issue before the Industrial Commission was about an unusually large oil field development that includes Little Missouri State Park. The development raised concerns from property owners, but commissioners said developing it as a large unit would minimize impacts to the park.
Paul Sorum, independent candidate for governor who lost the Republican nomination to Dalrymple, said he received the report anonymously and contacted Thompson about a citizen-initiated grand jury proceeding to investigate the matter.
Stenehjem, a Republican who also is a member of the Industrial Commission, declined to comment on the allegations in the petition because he had not read it.
“This is the political season. Sometimes these charges get brought right before an election,” Stenehjem said. “They’re not for legal purpose, they’re for political purpose.”
Thompson emphasizes that the petition effort is coming from both Democrats and Republicans. Sorum is a Tea Party member and the petition was delivered by Nikki McAlpin, a former volunteer for Sorum’s campaign.
“There is no more relevant time to bring issues like this than during a political campaign,” Thompson said.