PSC Commissioners say PAC Contributions Don''t Influence Decision-Making

North Dakota law prohibits a corporation to contributing to a candidate running for office.
 
But, corporations can get around the law by contributing through a political action committee or P-A-C. 
 
And there's no cap on how much a PAC can give to a candidate.
 
That creates questions surrounding the influence of PAC's in North Dakota elections.
 
Two public service commissioners, Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk, who ran for re-election in 2014, received money from Nextera and Basin Electric political action committees.
 
Both companies had a stake in the wind farm the two utility regulators granted a permit to a couple of years later.
 
More than one-thousand wind turbines have popped up over the years. Their spinning blades giving many North Dakotans' power.
 
But, not without controversy.
 
New England's John Wert was heavily involved in the hearing process over Nextera's proposal to build the Brady I and II wind farm in Stark and Hettinger County.
 
"Highly controversial," Wert said. "It was heated. it was a heated discussion "
 
There have been many debates about the impact of wind energy.
 
In the end, every wind farm in North Dakota has been approved by the state Public Service Commission.
 
Wert believes political contributions have a lot to do with that, further sowing his distrust in politics and elected officials.
 
"It does. It's still coming from the same people, the same agenda," Wert said. "it seems like a conflict of interest regardless if it's coming from the company or their super PAC."
 
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that more than five million dollars went to North Dakota candidates and parties in the 2016 election cycle.
 
More than 400,000 dollars of the donations were from PACS.
 
PSC commissioner Julie Fedorchak received 6,000 dollars total from Nextera and Basin Electric PACS But, she says that did not have any influence on her decision in approving the application for both Brady wind farms.
 
Brian Kalk received 6,500 total from Nextera and Basin Electric PACS.
 
"I am extremely open to the public," PSC Julie Fedorchak said. "What I've done and how I've made my decisions. I am fair and neutral and balanced."
 
Brian Kalk was unavailable for an on-camera interview. He did respond to questions via email.
 
Kalk says "I always base my decision on the record developed in the hearing and the application that has been filed." 
 
The Brady I wind farm had the longest public hearing in PSC history, lasting more than 15 hours.
 
But, Wert still questions the legitimacy of candidates taking money from PACS.
 
"I think this is exactly why people are fed up with politics and elections."
 
Kalk and Fedorchak say everything they did in this case followed the law.
 
Fedorchak says courts have upheld PACs and their constitutional right to be involved in elections
 
Kalk, he's no longer a PSC commissioner. He has since taken a job at NDU.

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