- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s biggest industry - oil - made up the biggest share of contributors to Gov. Doug Burgum’s inaugural celebration.

That’s according to a review of a list of sponsors provided by the governor’s office in response to a request from The Associated Press, which showed $215,000 was raised for the event from 37 sponsors - dominated by oil-related and energy companies.

Wednesday’s free, open-to-the-public event in Bismarck drew more than 3,000 people for a night of dancing and music paid for mostly by corporate donations. The night also included a salute to veterans, and guests got a chance to mingle with the first couple and other elected officials.

Denver-based Whiting Petroleum, the biggest producer in western North Dakota’s oil patch, was the lead sponsor of the event, said Beau Bateman, spokesman for the private Inaugural Citizens Committee that organized the event.

Bateman said Whiting contributed at least $25,000 for the gala, which meant two oil company officials got to sit next to Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum during a dinner open only to event sponsors. Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, and his wife, Lori, were among only a handful of individual donors.

Energy-related companies that contributed to the inaugural include Continental Resources Inc., Hess Corp., Marathon Oil, Petro Hunt, Oneok, and XTO Energy. BNSF Railway Co., which hauls the bulk of crude oil out of North Dakota also is listed among the contributors.

Other non-energy contributors include Sanford Health and CHI St. Alexius Health, and the North Dakota Bankers Association.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said donations from the event’s sponsors “are not going to influence any decision making in the future” by the governor.

Burgum cruised to an easy victory in November over Democratic challenger Marvin Nelson, a state representative from Rolla. Burgum, a multimillionaire former Microsoft executive, was elected governor by running as an outsider, bucking what he called the “good old boy” party establishment and vowing to cut spending and “reinvent state government.”

Microsoft also contributed to the inaugural, records show.

Clare Carlson helped organize former Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s inaugural ball in 2012. The event cost about $110,000, but most of the money came from outside of the oil industry, Carlson said.

“It’s always a fun celebration and gets the governorship off to a good start,” said Carlson, a former Grand Forks lawmaker and the current deputy director of North Dakota’s workers’ compensation agency.

John Hoeven, a Republican, served as North Dakota’s governor from 2000 to 2010, when he resigned after winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Inaugural celebrations were held for Hoeven at the beginning of his first two terms but not his third. Organizers reported that Hoeven’s 2005 inaugural ball cost about $50,000.

The governor’s office provided the list of donors to the AP after initially referring inquiries to the private company marketing the event, which didn’t respond to calls. Secretary of State Al Jaeger says state law doesn’t require the disclosure of donors to inaugural celebrations.

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who represents North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters, thinks it should.

“I don’t disagree with the pomp and circumstance, but I would think there should be some accounting from this fundraising that nobody really knows where it’s going,” he said.

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