Judge Decides Legality of Campaign Contributions -- and More -- in 30 Days - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Judge Decides Legality of Campaign Contributions -- and More -- in 30 Days

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A member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission goes on-camera for the first time since a lawsuit was filed accusing him and others of taking allegedly improper campaign donations.

The complaint was filed over a year ago by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club against the U.S. Department of the Interior.  It asserts North Dakota Public Service Commission should be stripped of its responsibilities for regulating coal mining.
Instead, the federal government's Office of Surface Mining would do the job.

The suit also says Commissioners cannot take campaign donations directly or indirectly from coal companies.  One such company, South Heart Coal, LLC, has a pending permit request before the Commission.  Plaintiffs say that's reason enough to disqualify the Commission from regulating coal mining.  "It's just a concern that if you're accepting campaign contributions from the owner of a coal company that there would be some undue influence," says Wayde Schafer, Sierra Club, Bismarck.

One of the accused Commissioners says the campaign donations were from private citizens -- not companies -- and do not impact how he makes decisions.  "You have hearings.  You have people testify for or against different things.  You look at all the information, you make a decision.  So that's how I make decisions -- based on the record developed, based on the facts in front of us, and that's what I've done and that's what we'll always do," says Brian Kalk, Commissioner, North Dakota Public Service Commission.  Defenders say contributions from people who want to build coal mines do not taint a political candidate any more than the contributions from environmental activists who want to shut down them down.

During Friday's hearing before U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, Commissioner Falk noted the Justice Department weighed in, finding no wrongdoing with the Commission's regulation of mining operations to date.  Judge Hovland says he will have a ruling on both the coal mining regulation and political contributions issues within 30 days.


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