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Measure 1 supporters cite questionable practices by ND elected officials

FARGO — Dina Butcher and Ellen Chaffee have a list they hand out when people ask why Measure 1, their anti-corruption constitutional amendment, is needed in a state where few if any politicians have been convicted of bribery.

"A legislator pushes hard in the final hours of a session to make a land swap that would cost (North Dakota State University) millions," one item on the list said.

"A corporation feels free to make a $37,000 gift to a state official," another item said. "Powerful legislators accept free trips to foreign countries, paid by lobbying associations and corporations." The list went on.

These might seem questionable, but there are no laws or ethics guidelines to prevent them according to Butcher, the Measure 1 committee chairwoman, and Chaffee, the vice chairwoman.

Butcher, a Republican, served in Gov. Ed Schafer's administration. Chaffee ran for lieutenant governor as a Democrat in 2012.

Measure 1 would require all groups seeking to influence elections or state government to disclose donors if they spent more than $200; not all groups must now do so. The measure would forbid lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials. And it would create an ethics commission to write ethics rules and enforce them.

Opponents include business interests, such as the energy industry and the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber, the North Dakota Catholic Conference and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota.

Their main objection is the disclosure requirement that they say is so vague that it would restrict or discourage political engagement. The ACLU worried an individual traveling to Bismarck to testify on a bill might have to track how much he spent on his own gas, meals and hotel fees. The church and the Chamber fretted they might be forced to reveal the name of all their members.

Geoff Simon, an energy lobbyist and chairman of North Dakotans for Sound Government, which opposes Measure 1, said groups involved in controversial issues, such as abortion, would have to disclose their membership.

Chaffee said a constitutional measure like Measure 1 is meant to establish general principles leaving lawmakers to fill in the details, including any exemptions.

Some opponents also object to an unelected ethics commission, but that's actually the norm among states that have them, including Minnesota and South Dakota.

Butcher said any rule a North Dakota commission makes would still have to go through a public-hearing process.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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