Crossroads GPS: “Hiding Taxes”/”Pay Raises”

A reissued ad from Crossroads GPS abandons the plainly false claim that former Heidi Heitkamp “spent taxpayer dollars on private planes” as North Dakota’s Attorney General, replacing it with the equally disingenuous phrase “allowed staff to fly a taxpayer-funded plane.” But the very article cited in the ad explains that the planes were used for drug enforcement – not the stylish travel GPS implies even after admitting the initial lie about Heitkamp spending money on the aircraft. In addition, the ad misleads on pay raises given underpaid attorneys in Heitkamp’s office, positions she took on car insurance and coal taxes in the ’90s, and her 2012 position on taxes.

*Note: Crossroads GPS removed this ad from the air due to a “content issue,” then rereleased it with modified language about the attorney general office’s use of “a taxpayer-funded plane.”

Crossroads Distorts Heitkamp’s Record As Attorney General

“Private” or “Taxpayer-Funded” Planes Were Used For Drug Enforcement – Not Staff Travel – And Were Provided By Federal Government

Crossroads GPS Modified Ad With New Language About Staff Use Of  A “Taxpayer-Funded Plane.” Crossroads GPS originally claimed that Heitkamp “spent taxpayer dollars on private planes” while serving as Attorney General. Its rereleased ad claims Heitkamp “allowed staff to fly a taxpayer-funded plane.” The re-release cites the same July 27, 1993 Bismarck Tribune article as the original, adding the following text: “Pilot staffer of Attorney General’s office” and “Federal and National Guard funds used for flying/upkeep”:


[Crossroads GPS: “Hiding Taxes,” 8/8/12; Crossroads GPS:”Pay Raise,” 8/10/12]

Bismarck Tribune: “One Will Be Used Strictly For Drug Enforcement,” Other For Spare Parts. From the Bismarck Tribune article cited by Crossroads GPS: “The attorney general’s office has acquired two airplanes from the federal government but because of the covert activities they will be used for, word about the acquisition has been largely kept secret. As part of downsizing in the military, surplus equipment intended to fight war has been made available to states to fight the drug war, said Bill Broer, director of the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. In May 1992, the U.S. Department of Defense announced there would be various aircraft available, more than 100 planes, for government agencies statewide, Broer said. The state attorney general’s office acquired in May a couple of four-seater T-42 Beachcraft Barons. They are 1965 model, twin-engine planes valued at $102,000. One will be used strictly for drug enforcement acitivities in North Dakota, said Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. The other will be stripped down and used for spare parts. The defense department also will be providing an additional $200,000 worth of spare parts to the attorney general’s office.” [Bismarck Tribune via Nexis, 7/27/93]

Bismarck Tribune: “The Planes Are Being Provided Free Of Charge.” From the Bismarck Tribune article cited by Crossroads GPS: “Broer and Heitkamp said little if no state expenditures will be required because the planes are being provided free of charge and federal grant programs are paying for the costs of insurance, fuel and pilot training. And through its anti-drug efforts, the National Guard has agreed to house and service the planes. A drug agent on the attorney general’s staff who happens to be a pilot will fly the plane. ‘If at some point, we find this is not cost effective, we can divest ourselves of the airplane,’ Heitkamp said. ‘Rumors of this being an albatross around the state’s neck are ridiculous.'” [Bismarck Tribune via Nexis, 7/27/93, emphasis added]

Heitkamp Raised Salaries To Decrease High Turnover Rate

To support its allegations about Heitkamp giving raises to her staff, Crossroads GPS cites a letter to the editor of the Bismarck Tribune from December 5, 1994, which itself references a November news article in that newspaper.

Heitkamp Raised Staffers’ Pay To Stem High Turnover Rate In AG’s Office. From the news article referenced in the letter-to-the-editor cited by Crossroads GPS: “Lawyers in the attorney general’s office have received hefty pay raises — some as much as 30 percent — as Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp increased her payroll nearly $165,000. Heitkamp said the raises, which took effect in September, are necessary to stem the department’s 44 percent turnover rate. She said attorneys are leaving because they can make more money in the private sector. […] The largest increase in Heitkamp’s office went to Joann Toth, whose salary rose from $27,504 to $36,540 — a 32.8 percent increase. The next highest raise went to Lyle Witham, whose pay jumped from $34,416 to $45,432, a 32 percent increase. Most of the largest increases went to new attorneys, which Heitkamp called necessary to keep pace with lawyers in private practice. The average salary in the attorney general’s office is $40,192. But according to a 1990 survey by the University of North Dakota Law School, the average salary in private practice was $54,388. […] ‘When you measure our attorneys against other attorneys in state employment, our attorneys were being grossly underpaid,’ Heitkamp said. ‘As a result, we had a 44 percent turnover rate.'” [Associated Press via Nexis, 11/21/94, emphasis added]

  • Attorneys Working In The ND Attorney General’s Office Were Making “Significantly Less” Than Lawyers In Other State Government Departments. From the news article referenced in the letter-to-the-editor cited by Crossroads GPS: “Also, she said the raises will help close the gap between what attorneys in other state offices make and what her lawyers are paid. A nine-month study recently compared the salaries of lawyers in the North Dakota attorney general’s office with their colleagues in other state agencies. Heitkamp’s attorneys were found to make significantly less. Heitkamp, a Democrat, said she has ‘absolutely no regrets’ about the pay raises, adding, ‘It was done because it was the right thing to do.’ But Gov. Ed Schafer, a Republican, says the raises are inappropriate. ‘My concern is the signal that is being sent,’ he said. ‘You’ve got state employees out there getting a 3 percent increase and they had to find it … they had to operate better and find the money for that raise.’ The 3 percent raise, approved by lawmakers for classified, non-appointed state personnel, was to be given only if the money came from an agency’s existing budget, Schafer said. Heitkamp said Schafer is being hypocritical, considering his attorney is the highest-paid lawyer on the state’s payroll. Williston attorney Robert Harms earns $62,712 a year. She also produced an Office of Management and Budget record that shows the governor gave two of his employees — office manager Tove Mandigo and communication director Rick Collin — pay raises of more than 14 percent during the past year.” [Associated Press via Nexis, 11/21/94, emphasis added]

Full Story On Heitkamp And “New Taxes” In ’90s

“New Taxes On Car Insurance” Heitkamp Supported: 65 Cents Per $100 Of Insurance To Fund “Inadequate” Emergency Response And Law Enforcement Training. From the Bismarck Tribune: “In other action, the House voted 59-38 to defeat a proposed tax on car and truck insurance to pay for improved training programs for law enforcement officers and emergency workers. The legislation imposed a tax of 65 cents per $100 of insurance purchased. Estimates of what it would raise have varied, but Rep. John Dorso, R-Fargo, said the most recent price tag on the legislation was $1.6 million over two years. The measure set up a trust fund to pay for training programs, which police officers and sheriffs who supported the legislation say are inadequate at present. Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp supported the bill, as did city and county lobbyists.” [Bismarck Tribune via Nexis, 3/18/93]

‘New Tax On Energy’: Heitkamp Offered Legal Justification For Sales Tax On Imported Coal, Intended To Protect ND Producers, To Replace Existing Tax Struck Down By Judge. From the Bismarck Tribune: “North Dakota can justify slapping a sales tax on imported coal, although the move may provoke another legal fight, Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp told lawmakers Tuesday. The proposed tax, which was considered by the Senate’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday, would replace a tax on the energy value of out-of-state coal. A state district judge ruled last month that the existing tax was an unconstitutional interference in interstate commerce. It was imposed by the 1997 Legislature and immediately was challenged by coal companies in Wyoming and Montana. Judge Donald Jorgensen questioned the state’s decision to tax the energy value of imported coal, while taxing North Dakota-produced lignite by the ton. The new measure assesses a 75-cent sales tax on every ton of imported coal. Heitkamp believes the move is justified, because North Dakota’s own severance tax on lignite is in place of a sales tax.” [Bismarck Tribune via Nexis, 3/17/99]

  • Heitkamp’s 2012 Opponent Rick Berg Voted For The Tax On Imported Coal. On February 15, 1999, then-State Rep. Rick Berg voted “yea” on HB 1454, “relating to sales and use taxes on coal and allocation of tax revenues.”  [Journal of the North Dakota House, 2/15/99]

Heitkamp’s Desire To Ask More Of Millionaires Does Not Amount To “Higher Taxes On Small Businesses”

Heitkamp Campaign: Ask Million-Dollar-Per-Year Earners, Including 645 North Dakotans, To Help Reduce The Deficit. From Heitkamp’s campaign website: “I also believe those who earn more than $1 million a year should help reduce the deficit. Only 645 North Dakotans would be impacted by this change, and it would generate $46 billion for deficit reduction.” [, accessed 8/8/12]

CBPP: “Only 2.5 Percent Of Small Business Owners Face The Top Two Rates.” According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Allowing the top two marginal tax rates to return to pre-2001 levels as scheduled next year would affect very few small businesses, a recent Treasury Department study found.  The study shows that only 2.5 percent of small business owners face the top two rates.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/19/12, internal citations removed]

  • Conservatives Rely On Definition Of “Small Business” That Counts President Obama And Mitt Romney. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The claims that allowing the Bush tax cuts for high-income people to expire would seriously harm small businesses rest on an exceedingly broad, and misleading, definition of ‘small business.’ The definition is so broad, in fact, that under it, both President Obama and Governor Romney would count as small business owners — as would 237 of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/19/12, internal citations removed]
  • Conservative Definition Of “Small Businesses” Includes Multi-Billion-Dollar Corporations Like Bechtel And PricewaterhouseCoopers. According to the Center for American Progress: “‘That’s 750,000 small businesses in America, the most productive, the ones that are the most successful, getting hit by a tax increase on top of everything else that’s happened to them in the last 18 months of this administration,’ said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). But McConnell’s number is only accurate if you take an incredibly expansive view of what constitutes a small business. Included in that 750,000 is the Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering firm in the country. It is the fifth-largest privately owned company in the United States, posting gross revenue in 2008 of $31.4 billion. […] The auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has operations in more than 150 countries, fits the bill as well.” [Center for American Progress, 10/21/10, emphasis added]

CRS: Allowing Tax Cuts For The Rich To Expire Will Reduce Deficits “Without Stifling The Economic Recovery.” According to Reuters: Letting tax rates for the wealthy rise will not put a short-term damper on the economic recovery, according to a report by the non-partisan research arm of the U.S. Congress. […] Republicans want the cuts continued for all income groups while Democrats favor letting them expire for the most affluent Americans. ‘If the economy is still weak, a temporary extension (of all the rates) will not harm the economy,’ despite adding to the deficit, the CRS report said, citing CRS economist Thomas Hungerford. But allowing the rates to rise just for the wealthy could help ‘reduce budget deficits in the short term without stifling the economic recovery.’” [Reuters, 7/19/12]

“Hiding Taxes”

[NARRATOR:] What’s Heidi hiding on taxes? As attorney general, Heitkamp supported new taxes on car insurance and energy, even as she awarded her staff a 30 percent pay-raise and spent taxpayer dollars on private planes. Now Heitkamp supports higher taxes on North Dakota small businesses, raising taxes on job creators just as our economy struggles to come back. Tell Heidi, stop supporting higher taxes on small businesses and North Dakota families. [Crossroads GPS via YouTube, 8/8/12]
“Pay Raise”

[NARRATOR:] What’s Heidi hiding on taxes? As attorney general, Heitkamp supported new taxes on car insurance and energy, even as she awarded her staff a 30 percent pay-raise and allowed staff to fly a taxpayer-funded plane. Now Heitkamp supports higher taxes on North Dakota small businesses, raising taxes on job creators just as our economy struggles to come back. Tell Heidi, stop supporting higher taxes on small businesses and North Dakota families. [Crossroads GPS via YouTube, 8/10/12]