BISMARCK, ND – Today on a public radio show, Heidi Heitkamp denied claims of any kind of “pay-for-play” arrangement in her 1999 contract with Rhode Island attorney Jack McConnell to represent North Dakota taxpayers’ interests in the tobacco litigation suit. She called Texas Senator John Cornyn “a liar,” stating that his floor speech to the Senate yesterday was untrue.
Heitkamp told listeners that McConnell received absolutely nothing from the state in terms of payments, and while it is true that he did not receive a direct payout, he did receive a “contingency fee” from the settlement monies, an amount which was increased because of the inclusion of North Dakota in the suit. To say that he did not profit from his services in North Dakota would be untrue.
But Heitkamp also gained considerably, receiving thousands of dollars directly from Jack McConnell, his wife and his associates.
A thorough review of Heitkamp’s recorded contributions received in her 2000 bid for Governor reveals that Jack McConnell did significant fund-raising – either official or unofficial – on Heitkamp’s behalf.
Heitkamp received a minimum of $71,000 directly to her campaign funds from McConnell and his associates, including $20,000 from Rhode Island political party leaders Mark and Susan Weiner, who each contributed $10,000. Other contributions came from McConnell’s Rhode Island firm and its associate offices in South Carolina, each of whom averaged from $1,000-5,000. In addition to these, McConnell and his associates also made large contributions to the ND Dem-NPL party, which in turn the party directed to Heitkamp’s campaign.
McConnell was approved by the Senate today, but not before several Republicans strenuously objected. Earlier this week, Senator Cornyn, R-Texas, stated the following in a Washington Times op-ed:
As a crusading plaintiff’s lawyer, Mr. McConnell has helped initiate and direct the litigation of mass tort suits brought by state attorneys general against tobacco and lead-based paint manufacturers. He and his firm established a pattern of contributing tens of thousands of dollars to attorneys general in states engaged in mass tobacco litigation, where his firm was appointed to represent those states on a contingent-fee basis.
According to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office, it is common for out-of-state attorneys to be contracted, some with and some without fees. The appointment is case and person specific. Currently, the office is not aware of any SAAG attorneys receiving “contingency based fees,” as McConnell did.