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Survey: Most back Dorgan's decision

BISMARCK - Wayne Tesmer saw North Dakota Sen.

BISMARCK - Wayne Tesmer saw North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan's political efforts firsthand while working in the North Dakota State University financial aid office.

That's why he "absolutely" thinks Dorgan has dealt satisfactorily with political contributions that may have been tainted by a disgraced lobbyist whom Dorgan is now investigating, he said.

The Democratic senator returned the $67,000 after stories surfaced tying him to the contributions from tribes for which he helped secure funding.

"To suggest in any way that he would knowingly accept funds to influence his vote seems preposterous," said Tesmer, 74.

By a more than 2-to-1 margin, North Dakotans who responded to The Forum's Real People Bank questions this week support Dorgan and how he handled the situation.


But others criticized the senator.

"If there was nothing wrong with the donations in the first place, why give them back? And if they were less than on the up-and-up, why take them?" asked Rod Lammer, 56, of LaMoure, N.D.

The Associated Press examined political donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and Abramoff's clients and partners, to Dorgan and other lawmakers.

The AP said more than four dozen members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, took action favorable to Abramoff's clients about the time Abramoff or his clients made large political donations to them.

Dorgan is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Abramoff for allegedly bilking tribes of lobbying fees.

Political donations from lobbyists are common in Washington, but, as the AP noted, "ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest while performing official duties."

Dorgan told The Forum on Monday that he returned all $67,000 received over a four-year period from tribes and others associated with Abramoff. Refunds from his Great Plains Leadership Fund and his campaign, Friends of Byron Dorgan, were mailed last week. A letter with the checks is dated Dec. 2, one week after the first AP story implicating Dorgan.

Dorgan said he decided to make refunds when a lawyer for one Indian tribe, the Louisiana Coushatta, told the AP that Abramoff directed them to donate to Dorgan and more than 60 other members of Congress.


Numerous attempts to confirm that the tribes and other donors received the refunds were unsuccessful. Messages left with officials for the Coushatta, Mississippi Band of Choctaw and Saginaw Chippewa were not returned.

Many respondents to The Forum's Real People Bank cited their faith in Dorgan's scruples or replied with a curt "yes" to the question of whether Dorgan's return of the funds was a satisfactory response to the disclosures.

Elizabeth Urban, 76, of Fargo called Dorgan's refund of the money "a response that is so in keeping with his political integrity that it doesn't surprise me."

"I do not know the facts around the (donations) Mr. Dorgan received," said Sam Robertson, 56, of Fargo, one of those who agreed the refunds were a satisfactory response. "But I do feel that giving them back to avoid any impropriety in an investigation is a good and ethical thing to do."

Others saw it as a hollow gesture or an admission of guilt.

"My response is, 'What took him so long?' Would he have returned it if it had not become a news story?" asked Karen O'Leary of West Fargo.

Linda Croaker, 36, of Fargo said Dorgan's refunds are not a satisfactory conclusion and something should be done to set an example.

Croaker also said Dorgan "most definitely" should withdraw from the Abramoff investigation, a response shared by O'Leary, who called it a conflict of interest that could lead to a cover-up of the facts.


Lammer also believes Dorgan should recuse himself from the probe, asking, "Should a fox be banned from guarding the hen house just because he's eaten a few chickens?"

But respondents who are satisfied with Dorgan's refund also said they saw no reason for him to step aside from the Abramoff investigation.

"His committee is the one shedding light on the unfortunate situation," Urban said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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