Have this much influence on an election
Running for office in North Dakota has historically been equally low-key – and low budget, with winning candidates for state offices raising less than a few thousand dollars each. But the oil boom has changed all that. The 2014 election cycle looks like it will be the most expensive ever in state history, with over $17 million in campaign contributions.
"It’s gotten ugly," said Jim Fuglie, the former head of the Democratic Party in North Dakota and a political commentator. "We’ve never had an industry this big, with this much money, have this much influence on an election."
Fuglie believes the tone of politics has changed, too, and points to negative campaign ads like the one calling the Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Taylor, a "tree-hugger."
The ad, which ran on commercial radio stations leading up to the election, was paid for by a local political action committee or PAC, funded by the national Republican State Leadership Committee. Some of its top donors are oil and gas companies like Devon Energy and ExxonMobil.
Between PACs, trade groups and corporations, the oil and gas industry has spent $1.3 million on the 2014 election in North Dakota, according to data from the North Dakota Secretary of State. Some races matter more to the industry than others - like the Agriculture Commissioner race. While the title sounds irrelevant to oil and gas, as one of three officials who sit on the state's Industrial Commissin, the agriculture commissioner has a lot of power to regulate the oil and gas industry.
So far, the oil and gas industry has kicked in $73,000 to support Republican Doug Goehring - about a quarter of all the money he's raised. They're worried that if Taylor, the Democratic challenger, wins, he’ll slow the pace of development.
"The oil and gas industry has been somewhat successful in characterizing any questioning of the speed as potentially threatening everything," said Nicholas Kusnetz, a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity who’s written extensively on the industry’s influence on politics in North Dakota.