NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — “In North Dakota, no one–and no corporation–is above the law. Not even Bill Gates.”
Those are the words of former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, lawyer, farm advocate, and author Sarah Vogel.
Vogel says the state’s anti-corporate-farm law protects family farmers from being bought out by corporate absentee farmers that do not buy locally or play a big part in the local communities they have set up shop.
Essentially, Vogel says corporate agribusinesses do little to support local communities whereas family farms are the backbone of North Dakota.
KX News’ Josh Meny sat down with Vogel who says the Attorney General’s office is impeding her investigation into the purchase.
You’re looking into Bill Gates’ Red River Trust purchase of 2,100 acres of land in northeastern North Dakota, formerly Campbell farms. The trust purchased it for $13.5 million. But you’re looking at it in terms of whether it follows North Dakota’s anti-corporate farmland law. But you can’t do that without seeing the trust documentation. You haven’t gotten that back yet from the AGs. Office?
“No, as recently as today, I got a further response. And they still don’t have the trust documents. And the reason why one would need the trust documents and you want to see whether the Red River Trust is basically a corporate shell for one of Bill Gates, many corporations. He is the largest landowner in the United States. He’s been buying farmland all over the country. And it’s very opaque without seeing what the Red River Trust actually says is Bill Gates actually the sole beneficiary of that trust? What are the terms of the trust, and the Attorney General’s Office has not obtained that document? Yet? They have ruled that it was legal. And I think that’s wrong,” said former ND Commissioner of Agriculture Sarah Vogel.
So are you saying that the Attorney General has not seen the documents himself?
“No, he can’t have. Because I’ve been asking for that document. They don’t have it. I understand there’s been some records that were turned over to me where the Attorney General’s office was communicating with lawyers for the Red River Trust, and or Bill Gates. And they, as far as I can see, they have not gotten that. it has not been produced to me, and I’ve been asking for it several times,” Vogel explained.
You’re also calling on the Attorney General’s office to appoint an independent assistant Attorney General to investigate the purchase because of possible conflict of interest with Drew Wrigley, the serving Attorney General, explain that.
“Well, at first, I thought that Drew Wrigley would step up to the plate and enforce the law. Because after all, he is the Attorney General, and that’s his job. However, the investigation that I’ve seen and these documents that are requested is so lame, that I think it just he’s just demonstrated that he doesn’t have the will to enforce Anti Corporate Farming Law against Bill Gates. And then you wonder why. And one reason could be that Bill Gates is a very wealthy man. He’s a close associate of the Governor who appointed Drew Wrigley to the office that he holds. And I would say Attorney General Wrigley’s behavior is such that he’s shown he’s not committed to enforcing the law. And so there’s a mechanism in the law called a Special Assistant Attorney General, that has the same powers as the, as a regular Assistant Attorney General. And over time, I’ve watched other attorney generals appoint Special Assistant Attorney Generals whenever there’s a conflict, or they need to have somebody really pursue something and the AGs office is not in a position to do it. Attorney General Stenehjem hired quite a few special assistant attorney generals to enforce or to fight environmental laws for example. And this is done,” explained Vogel.
Vogel says the Attorney General’s office needs to make the trust agreement transparent to the public.
“To allow someone to just buy a farm by using the word trust, without looking to the terms of the trust, without finding out who is behind that trust, it is a corporation behind that trust? If you go to the Secretary of State’s website and search for the word “trust,” there are a plethora of trusts. Many of which are corporate. So, the Attorney General’s office just needs to dig a little bit. Get a document, look at it, and tell the people what they have found,” said Vogel.
KX News spoke with a staff member of the Attorney General’s office. We requested an interview or statement with respect to Vogel’s claims. We have yet to hear back at the time of publication.