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Port: It appears last year's term limits campaign has a roughly $28,000 discrepancy in their financials

"Yesterday term limits activists filed an ethics complaint over what they say is an unreported contribution to a lawmaker. Today it seems they have a significant discrepancy in their own finances."

A man with a chinstrap beard wears a black suit coat and light gray button-down while speaking into a microphone at a podium.
Term limits supporter Jared Hendrix, of Fargo, testifies in opposition to House Concurrent Resolution 3019 on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, during a hearing of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee at the Capitol in Bismarck.
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

MINOT, N.D. โ€” U.S. Term Limits yesterday accused lawmaker Jim Kasper of failing to report a $5,000 contribution from the group's founder.

U.S. Term Limits, the national group that bankrolled the term limits measure on last year's November ballot, made the accusation in a complaint filed with the state ethics commission .

Given that Rep. Kasper is backing a proposed amendment to the term limits voters just approved โ€” increasing the number of consecutive terms that can be served but also expanding the limits to other elected offices โ€” the complaint seemed a fairly transparent effort by the term limits group to pressure the lawmaker.

I've spoken with Kasper, a Republican from Fargo who is currently fulfilling the duties of his elected office in Bismarck, who told me that he'll be reviewing his 2020 campaign records when he's at home, and will file an amended report with Secretary of State Michael Howe's office if necessary.

Kasper
State Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo)
File photo

But I also looked into the campaign filings made by North Dakota for Term Limits, the ballot measure campaign created by activist Jared Hendrix, who was paid by U.S. Term Limits to manage the campaign. It seems they may have some problems of their own.

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According to the year-end disclosure report filed with the secretary of state by North Dakota for Term Limits, they reported receiving $54,309.59 in total contributions while spending $26,271.86. Yet that report also states that the campaign had no money on hand at the end of the reporting period.

It's not clear, at least based on these public disclosures, where the $28,037.73 went if it wasn't spent, and if the campaign didn't carry a balance past the reporting period.

I called Howe to find out if there was something I was missing, and after having his staff review the filings, he told me he'd be reaching out to Hendrix.

Howe believes Hendrix's campaign, like Kasper's, may need to file an amendment to make an account for the more than $28,000 gap between what the campaign collected and what it spent. Howe said that if the campaign still has a balance of cash on hand, they'll have to make the necessary filings to re-open the campaign until all finances are accounted for, and it can be closed. If the cash was refunded, or spent in some way, then their filings would need to reflect that.

I attempted to reach Hendrix by phone and text message. So far I haven't received a response.

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Sadly, the consequences for candidates or campaign committees flouting North Dakota's campaign finance laws aren't much of a consequence at all. Section 16.1-08.1-06.1 of the North Dakota Century Code sets a penalty of $25 for reports filed within six days of the due date, $50 for reports filed between 6 and 11 days late, and a maximum of $100 for reports filed later than that.

That's a nothing burger, and it seems to be inviting a cavalier attitude about our state's campaign transparency laws. Last year Melanie Moniz, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Public Service Commission on the Democratic-NPL ticket, blew off not one but two reporting deadlines during the campaign.

Back to the issue at hand, what can we say we've learned from this?

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For the term limits people, who sought to use their ethics complaint against Kasper as a way to undermine his proposed reforms to the amendment they campaigned for, the saying about people in glass houses not throwing stones seems to apply.

For we voters, it's clear that our campaign finance laws need some work. We need reports that are more frequent, more detailed, and more accessible.

The online database for campaign disclosures is confusing and difficult to use for both the public and staff in the Secretary of State's Office. To illustrate that point, Howe said that if Kasper does end up filing an amendment to his 2020 disclosures, it may not show up in the public database because he's not sure if his staff can make changes to campaign filings that old (apparently any amendment to the term limit campaign's filings will be easier since that was just last year).

That's an unacceptable situation, and Howe, who was just elected to the office last year, says he's asking lawmakers for the funds to make improvements.

But this is the most important part: When politicians and activists fail to comply with these laws, there need to be real consequences. Not a slap on the wrist.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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