BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday he will repay a Minnesota electric utility $37,000 for tickets the company provided him and his wife for Sunday's Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
The Republican governor said he would reimburse Xcel Energy "to eliminate even the perception of any conflict."
Burgum and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum watched the game from a suite provided by Xcel, which serves more than 90,000 customers in Grand Forks, Fargo and Minot. He said before going that he planned to use the opportunity to talk with Xcel officials about their service and infrastructure in North Dakota.
The trip drew criticism even from within his own party.
"We can't be doing that," GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said. "I don't think the governor was influenced in any way but we as state officials just need to use good judgment."
Burgum, in a statement, said the tickets "have not influenced, and will not influence, my decision-making as governor. However, to eliminate even the perception of any conflict, I have reimbursed Xcel Energy for the full cost of the tickets."
Earlier Wednesday, his office said that an ethics policy was being written for the governor and his staff. But it was in progress before the governor was criticized over the Super Bowl, according to Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki.
"There wasn't one in the governor's office when we moved in," Nowatzki said of an ethics policy. Burgum's lawyer, Leslie Bakken Oliver, has been crafting such a policy for several months, the spokesman said.
"We don't have a timeline" for when it will be done, Nowatzki said.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton paid more than $6,000 for his own ticket to the Super Bowl.
Democratic House Minority Leader Corey Mock of Grand Forks said if anyone could make the case for getting a free ticket to the game it would have been Minnesota's governor. Burgum, a wealthy, former software executive, could afford his own, Mock said.
"That way, no one would question why you get to go to the biggest football game of the season at no cost," he said.
During his campaign for governor, Burgum often talked about "reinventing government," shaking up the "good old boy" party establishment and reining in "runaway spending" as the state's oil boom was fading.