FARGO - The debate over North Dakota's Measure 1 is heating up as two organizations voice their opposition and the measure's supporters fight back.
The newly formed North Dakotans for Sound Government and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota said Tuesday, Sept. 25, that the measure, which supporters call an "anti-corruption amendment," is poorly written and potentially violates individual rights to free speech.
The measure asks voters during the Nov. 6 election to decide whether to add anti-corruption language into the state constitution, including the creation of an ethics commission that could investigate claims made against public officials, candidates and lobbyists.
But Heather Smith of the North Dakota ACLU said the measure isn't just about lobbyists and lawmakers. She said there is no exception to the reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their point of view on policy. For example, she said a private citizen wanting to testify on a bill in Bismarck would have to disclose any money spent on fuel, meals and lodging more than $200.
"As citizens, we have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to express our own opinions and interests. Measure 1 has the potential to limit this," Smith said. "Our First Amendment rights are too important to let this constitutional mandate pass."
But Corey Goldstone of the Campaign Legal Center, an organization working with proponents of Measure 1, said that example is "simply false."
"The money the individual pays to stay at the Bismarck Hilton is not 'funds spent to lobby,'" he said. "The legislator gets nothing from that spending. But if an individual treats a legislator to a $250 meal and tries to influence the legislator in the process, that would be covered because the meal is part of the actual lobbying activity."
At a news conference in Fargo, Geoff Simon, the chairman of North Dakotans for Sound Government and executive director of the Western Dakota Energy Association, agreed with the ACLU that the measure is poorly written and very likely unconstitutional.
"We already have an open, honest and transparent process," he said. "I've characterized it as a solution in search of a problem. To me, it's one of those feel-good things where they think they're doing something, but it will create all kinds of havoc if it should pass."
The measure's proponents, a bipartisan group called North Dakotans for Public Integrity, called the NDSG "a front group for unaccountable special interests who want to keep their political spending hidden from North Dakota voters."
The proponents pointed out that NDSG includes trade associations such as the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the Lignite Energy Council, who together have at least 40 out-of-state corporations represented on their boards of directors comprising more than half of their collective board membership.
North Dakotans for Public Integrity said 36,000 North Dakotans signed the petition to get this measure on the ballot.
"The North Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment is a common-sense measure developed by North Dakotans, for North Dakotans. It was written carefully by former elected and appointed public officials, educators, public policy specialists and attorneys to protect the integrity of North Dakota and its government from the undue influence of special interests," said NDPI Vice President Ellen Chaffee. "Who wouldn't want more transparency and accountability in our state government? The only people who fear transparency are those with something to hide."