McFeely: North Dakota beclowns itself with hiring of 'Shark Tank' guy

Kevin O'Leary, who lost $18 million in the FTX crypto debacle, is in charge of state's investment fund.

Businessman, investor, and television personality Kevin O'Leary chats with Forum reporter Thomas Evanella during the InForum Business Beat Podcast on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at The Forum's office in downtown Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

MOORHEAD — Leave it to North Dakota to hire a third-rate TV entertainer and political hack as a state spokesman who'll oversee taxpayer dollars.

No, not Sarah Palin.

Kevin O'Leary.


Kevin O'Leary, the lying slimeball from "Shark Tank."


Palin would've been more fun.

O'Leary, the Canadian citizen and longtime Boston resident, is one of the celebrity investors on "Shark Tank," for which he accepts money from super-woke ABC owner Disney. Has anybody told Ron DeSantis?

But O'Leary's also known for his hot takes on Fox News, CNN and other politically oriented outlets during which he bashes blue states and powerful women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.

You can see why North Dakota's Republican gentry are smitten with him. He's rich, semi-famous and he owns the libs. Take that, Brandon!

North Dakota hired O'Leary in January to direct $45 million in state investment funds after nobody else bid for the job. The program was promptly dubbed the Wonder Fund after O'Leary's nickname of Mr. Wonderful.

Which he gave himself.

Humble guy, this one.

Par for the course, because O'Leary has been referred to as "Canada's Donald Trump." That might explain his popularity among North Dakota's power players like Gov. Doug Burgum. O'Leary is a right-wing reality TV star, he's brash, he's an East Coast elite pretending to love the little people, he ran for political office as an outsider and he's been sued for his business misdealings.


Third-rate TV entertainer? Maybe that's too much praise. More like a less-successful, third-rate Trump. O'Leary even has his own line of wines. At least Trump's won an election, something O'Leary can't say.

But you can hear Burgum and Co. slobbering on themselves: "He's a celebrity! And he likes us! He really likes us!"

In fairness to O'Leary, he's an upgrade over the one-time convicted murderer Burgum chose to invest in a cryptocurrency data center in western North Dakota.

O'Leary is a big crypto guy, too.*

(* He loves crypto now. In 2019, O'Leary called bitcoin "garbage" and "a useless currency.")

O'Leary is touting he'll bring hundreds of millions in investment to the state from the Middle East's sovereign wealth funds, which hasn't yet perked up ears. North Dakota is going to be business partners with the Saudis after kicking Chinese-owned Fufeng to the curb? The Saudi government just murders and tortures people. At least it isn't communist.

One might be wise to take what O'Leary says with a grain of salt, since he now claims to despise Massachusetts despite living in downtown Boston for a quarter-century and once saying, "Boston is a really special place for me. There’s no town like Boston. ... I have homes in Toronto, Geneva, and other places, but Boston is home."

On a North Dakota media tour arranged by the state's tourism department recently, including a stop at The Forum (I wasn't invited), O'Leary sounded like a tired 1980s hair band making the casino circuit, playing the greatest hits he knew the rubes would love.


The man known as “Mr. Wonderful” said that North Dakota is a standout destination for investors. Meanwhile, he said he “would never headquarter a business” in Minnesota and that Moorhead “looks like Cuba.”

Democratic-run states bad. North Dakota good.

Go-to states good. No-go states bad.

AOC and Elizabeth Warren bad. Doug Burgum good.

Wave your lighters.

O'Leary has the clown act down. Pull the string and the Music Man repeats the sound bites. At least Harold Hill was likable.

Hill also didn't have the honor of losing $18 million when crypto giant FTX collapsed, nor was he included in a class-action lawsuit because of it. Those honors belong to O'Leary alone.

O'Leary did add the twist of comparing Fargo's neighbor across the Red River, Moorhead, to Cuba, saying he'd never headquarter a business in Minnesota.

This advice would surprise the CEOs of 16 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Minnesota, which generate more than $600 billion a year in revenue.


That's 15 more Fortune 500 firms than are located in North Dakota and a tish more money than the $1.25 million O'Leary handed out to a Bozeman, Mont., tech company wanting to open a branch in North Dakota. The big venture should attract three employees to an office in a strip mall in south Fargo. Congrats.

Even Burgum's much-touted "Find the Good Life" campaign has attracted nine (9) new workers to the state. Mr. Wonderful has a ways to go if he wants to match that high bar.

As for the Cuba reference, those of us who live in Moorhead will ignore it. We kind of pride ourselves on our grit. No East Coast cake-eaters here. We'll just keep voting to build new schools and libraries as the mullahs in Bismarck gut public education and state universities while they ban books, women's rights and gay kids. Let's bet on which works better long-term.

We're proud of our good schools in Moorhead, where we teach kids to sniff out slimy hucksters a mile away. The stench the other day was obvious.

He doesn't like us. He really doesn't like us. And we're fine with that.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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