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ND Lawmakers Could Hamstring New Ethics Measure, Supporters Say

Critics say a bill to implement North Dakota's Measure 1 doesn't provide enough funding for the new state Ethics Commission. (Jim Howe/Flickr)
Critics say a bill to implement North Dakota's Measure 1 doesn't provide enough funding for the new state Ethics Commission. (Jim Howe/Flickr)
February 1, 2019

BISMARK, N.D. – North Dakota lawmakers are considering competing bills to implement an ethics measure passed by voters in November. Backers of the Measure 1 campaign are concerned the House version could undermine it.

Republican backers of House Bill 1521 say the language in the ballot measure is too restrictive and could discourage North Dakotans from testifying at the Legislature for fear of being labeled lobbyists.

Ellen Chaffee is vice president of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, which was behind the campaign for Measure 1. She testified against HB 1521 this week, saying the proposed fine for using campaign money for personal purposes is so low that it's practically meaningless.

"According to this bill, your fine is $100,” says Chaffee. “So, as one person put it at the hearing, 'That's easy. All you do is add $100 to the budget and do what you want to do.' So, it's clear that they're not taking the amendment seriously."

Chaffee says the bill under-funds the state Ethics Commission established by the measure as well. She and other Measure 1 backers are supporting the competing legislation, Senate Bill 2148, sponsored by Senator Tim Mathern – D-Fargo – which they say is more in line with the initiative as it was originally passed.

Don Morrison, a member of Dakota Resource Council, thinks there are too many loopholes in the House bill that would keep corruption in the Legislature hidden.

"The measure that we all voted on was designed to involve the Legislature in thoughtful discussions about this,” says Morrison. “But unfortunately, many legislators and corporate lobbyists are still fighting the very idea that they're going to have to comply with this."

Chaffee believes some legislators are trying to make the amendment toothless.

"The people who opposed the initiated measure in the fall and campaigned against it are still, in effect, campaigning against making it a meaningful change in North Dakota government,” says Chaffee.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND