Fargo Flood Diversion Proponents Want To Start Taxpayer-Funded Campaign

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North Dakota has a big problem with taxpayer-funded political activism. One recent example was the debate last summer over Measure 2 which, if it had passed on the June ballot, would have abolished property taxes in the state. Organizations like the Association of Counties and League of Cities, funded almost exclusively by tax dollars, did an end-run around legal prohibitions on using taxpayer resources for political activities and were central to the “Keep It Local ND” campaign against the measure.

Which meant that group of citizens supporting the measure through a campaign of volunteers were shouted down by a slick opposition campaign funded with their own tax dollars. Whatever you might have thought of Measure 2, that wasn’t fair.

Nor is it fair when the Diversion Authority Board, created by local government and funded with tax dollars, begins an “outreach campaign” which would hire public relations consultants, buy advertising and coordinate letter writing according to the Fargo Forum. The DAB is afraid that public opinion is turning against their flood diversion project due to push back from opponents (many of whom have written guest posts here on SAB), and wants to begin a campaign of their own.

But is that an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars? Should those opposed to the DAB’s agenda have to combat their own tax dollars in this fight? State law (specifically the corrupt practices section of state election law) prohibits the use of taxpayer resources for political purposes, with political purposes defined as supporting or opposing any candidate, political party or initiated measure. So, legally speaking, the DAB is probably in the clear.

Ethically speaking, they’re clearly in the wrong.

The proper source of funding for any pro-diversion campaign should be private funds. Surely if this flood diversion project is as important to Fargo and surrounding communities as supporters say it is there should be a ready source of funds from businesses and individuals to make that case. If there isn’t, then maybe that’s sort of telling.

This fight was already a sort of David vs. Goliath affair. Mighty Fargo, with the biggest population in the state and the most political clout, is squaring off against rural communities over a plan that would send Fargo’s flood waters (and headaches) to the smaller communities. I’ve never seen that as fair (I think the headaches from floods ought to be kept with the people who chose to build and live near a river), but wherever you come down on this issue I don’t think anyone is well-served by a government propaganda campaign in favor of the project.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • caeslinger

    While I do agree that these funds should not be used to promote the project (You should really expose Mike Williams and his lavish spending on what he deems appropriate), I do want to point out, it’s not just as simple as saying ‘We protect ourselves from the floodwaters’. No matter what Fargo does, it has effects – the same effects – on other communities.

    The problem is with the engineering and the rules for it that the Corps ‘has’ to follow in this project. There is no conceivable reason – NONE – that the baseline for the engineering is the entire Fargo Moorhead already flooded and that subsequent floodworks have to account for that storage. That storage is already out of the system and should not be accounted for.

  • jimmypop

    “Mighty Fargo, with the biggest population in the state and the most political clout”

    you forgot to add where all the jobs are…. thats kinda the main reason this matters. your anti-everything-east (esp imperial cass) is getting to be laughable. but you never had a problem taking our evil eastern money before. weird how that works, huh?

  • Harlan Goerger

    Just because a government entity thinks a project or idea is good, does not mean it is! Then to take the taxpayers money to pay for the propaganda to fight opposition is wrong. Why does government think taxpayers should pay for even bad ideas just because the mayor thought it up? Guess the letter writing continues.

  • Lynn Bergman

    If tax dollars are used for lobbying, it should be to go back to the Corps and demand a “Grand Forks style” solution (at one fourth the cost) be seriously considered. The Corps has increasingly become a puppet of polticians, so let’s put some political pressure on it to do the right thing instead of what the “Fargo elite” demand.

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