North Dakota Democrats Introduce Raft Of Ethics Reforms Both Good And Bad

corey mock, mac schneider, jerry klein

Last year the Fargo Forum took a bribe from the George Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity to help produce a study claiming North Dakota was one of the states in the nation most at-risk for corruption. How much did the Forum take? They’re not telling, but this ridiculous study also managed to conclude that the state least at-risk for corruption was…New Jersey.

That just screams “credibility,” doesn’t it?

Anyway, that the study was simply laying the groundwork for a push for ethics reforms by Democrats is clear to anyone who was paying attention. And, indeed, the Fargo Forum reports today (without mentioning the aforementioned bribe, way to be ethical fellas) that Democrats have introduced a raft of new policies addressing transparency which would be implemented over through several different bills.

To be sure, not all of the ideas Democrats are proposing are bad ones. I like these bills:

HB1436, introduced by Rep. Ron Guggisberg, would require the same sort of campaign contribution transparency from legislative candidates as state candidates must adhere to. Currently statewide candidates have to report individuals/PAC’s who have contributed more than $200 during a year as well as a total of all contributions including those under $200.

HB1449, introduced by Rep. Josh Boschee, would require that both statewide and legislative candidates report campaign expenditures. Currently expenditures aren’t reported at all. Boschee’s bill would require all expenditures over $200 be disclosed.

SB2276, introduced by Sen. George Sinner, would require that legislators disclose any compensation they receive for travel from third parties related to their legislative duties (with exceptions for money from family, money from employers, etc.).

These are solid bills that will make our elections, and our government, more transparent. But the Democrats are also proposing some very bad legislation.

HB1444, introduced by Rep. Gail Mooney, would re-define anyone who “Drafts, promotes, or distributes model legislation with the purpose of influencing a member of the legislative assembly to introduce the legislation or vote in favor of the legislation through any means” as a lobbyist under the law, requiring them to register with the Secretary of State. Meaning that if a private citizen likes a policy promoted by some think tank, or that is currently law in another state, and communicates those feelings to a legislator they’re suddenly a “lobbyist.” This is clearly unconstitutional legislation and ought to be rejected.

HB1430, introduced by Rep. Ed Gruchalla would change North Dakota law to allow corporate spending (bringing the state into line with the Citizens United vs FEC Supreme Court ruling) but would also require that corporations report their independent spending to the Secretary of State, and the bill would also require that independent political groups advocating for or against candidates disclose not only their contributors but who their contributors work for. The bill does exempt “any position taken in any bona fide news story, commentary, or editorial,” but that might not include private citizens running blogs (gulp).

This bill is a clear and direct assault on free speech. As we watch Democrats nationally bully private individuals who dare support non-Democrat candidates, it’s not hard to think of North Dakota Democrats using these disclosure rules to target private citizens and businesses who are inconvenient for their political agenda.

Finally, the centerpiece of Democrat ethics reforms is HB1442, introduced by Rep. Corey Mock. It would create a totally unnecessary, nine-member ethics board which “may investigate a complaint alleging that any member of the legislative assembly, elected or appointed executive branch officer, judge of the district court, supreme court justice, candidate for elective legislative, executive, or judicial office, lobbyist, or state employee.” That might sound appealing, at first blush, but that this would quickly become an instrument for point-scoring and political vendettas is assured. Other states, including New Jersey which was lauded in the Soros-funded report mentioned above as being a model of ethics reforms, have panels like this and that’s exactly how they operate. They don’t stop ethical violations. They create political drama while adding another layer of bureaucracy to government.

The best “ethics board” that can be assembled is the voters. Put in place the necessary reporting and transparency laws to ensure that the public’s right to know is protected, and then let the people judge our leaders by their actions. If the people feel things are getting out of hand, they can and should vote for someone else. But the last thing we need is politicians creating a panel of politicians to investigate other politicians.

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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  • camsaure

    What would damocrats and RINOs know about ethics?

    • Tim Heise

      AMEN

  • Yogibare

    No, No, No to some review board or whatever it might tbe called. We can see the political fights and the biases that will be attendant to this commission / committee/ board.
    Interestingly, the Democrats and Liberals and Progressives come into this “pure as the driven snow” so they are concerned about corruption. Maybe we should look into the suggestions offered by the Dems from the Hatton area regarding unemployment payments for the union members who voted down the ACS offer. Did the Dem’s get any contributions from those union members? Hmmmm.

  • Captjohn

    Sorry Rob! I fought against every ethics bill ever introduced in my time as a legislator. Tell me of any ethics violations by legislators and then tell me if any were successfuly prosecuted going back at least 50 years. This is legislation looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. What will happen is Democrats and then some day Republicans will get started playing the game of “gotcha”. It makes me sick to see the Democrats in Congress hang people out to dry like Tom Delay or Newt Gingrich over issues that in the first case after chasing him for years nothing came of it. The Republicans retaliate by getting after Ol Charlie Rangel and he gets censored and his district sends him back. It is all a waste of time and distracts from the real issues that face the state and nation.
    The Democrats are erecting a straw man and the Republicans ought to shut it down as soon as possible.
    The only thing that makes any sense is that a legislative campaign should divulge every contribution or accumulation from one donor that equals more then 200 dollars in value. I would like to see a data base set up that legislative candidates could log in to (password protected) every couple of days and report their contributions. The data base should be available to the general public from their computers.
    The question is do you want to maintain your citizen legislature or do you want to discourage people from running for fear that the “gotcha” game in North Dakota races will get as ugly as it is on the national scene.
    As far as the Forum if their reporters want to dig for dirt tell them to do it the old fashion way.

    • Carter Wood

      I agree with John.

  • Lianne

    Isn’t SB2276 similar to the failed bill of the previous session SB2310? I remember I thought it was good, but some legislators felt it too cumbersome. Four of the sponsors of that bill are newle elected democrats.
    HB1444—the term scholarship has always been used in relationship to lobby payments? Of course, I am against the bill. Was this as a result of the bills from school kids such as prohibiting smoking in cars when children under 13 are present?
    the first three on the list seem to increase transparency—the rest seem childish and trying to level a playing field that they seem to find unfair.

  • spud

    I see that the “steal the election by the vote of the people” bill introduced by republican legislator in Virginia has denounced by its governor rendering it dead. Other republican effort’s will soon fail in other states. Republicans try actually winning elections instead of stealing them. Maybe it is time to eliminate the electoral college and go entirely by the national vote to elect our president. Either way repubs will keep losing until they figure out how to enlarge there base.

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