MINOT, N.D. — There are very real ways in which we could amend state law to improve accountability and transparency for our state government.
Disclosures for lobbyist spending could be more accessible. They could be more frequent, and more robust in their detail as well.
Disclosures for candidates or committees — think people running for state elected office or political parties or organizations formed to support or oppose ballot measures — could also be more frequent and include more information.
Policies governing behavior could also be improved. Our Governor’s office didn’t even have an ethics policy in place, governing things like gifts from special interests, until Governor Burgum instituted one amid the embarrassment of paying Xcel Energy back nearly $40,000 for a Super Bowl excursion.
Suffice it to say, there is room for improvement. And the supporters of Measure 1 tell us their complicated constitutional amendment is just the improvement we need.
It is not.
To start with we must question the character of those promoting the measure. The so-called North Dakotans for Public Integrity fancy themselves a grassroots organization of North Dakotans, but the claim is tissue thin. Their ballot measure committee is bankrolled by left wing special interests groups who are promoting similar policies around the country.
Speaking of which, it’s difficult to listen to their ads decrying the influence of “out of state” money in North Dakota policymaking when they themselves are an out of state special interest.
At the time they filed their signatures with the Secretary of State’s office the NDPI had received just $4,250 of the nearly $400,000 in contributions they disclosed were from North Dakotans. The rest was mostly from a laundry list of Hollywood celebrities like Kirsten Dunst, Olivia Wilde, and Judd Apatow.
Which might be, if not exactly ok, at least acceptable if Measure 1 were good public policy.
It is not.
Measure 1 would impose broad and onerous reporting requirements on anyone seeking to participate in state politics.
“There is no exception to this reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their personal point of view on a given campaign or piece of public policy,” the ACLU wrote in a statement opposing this measure. “That leaves a constitutional mandate so broad that if a private citizen wants to travel to Bismarck to testify on a bill, they’d have to disclose any money spent on fuel, meals and lodging over $200. There’s also no exemption for the media. Talk radio hosts, newspaper columnists or bloggers who influence politics and policy with their reporting and analysis would likely be subject to these regulations, too.”
Is that what we want? A constitutional amendment which puts the average citizen, or hard working journalist, in a bureaucratic maze of red tape?
Again, there are ways in which transparency and accountability can be improved in North Dakota, but Measure 1 is not one of them.