Anti-Corruption Ballot Measure Activists, Flush With Out of State Money, Looking to Hire Professional Signature Collectors

Dina Butcher delivers a proposed ballot measure creating an ethics commission to Secretary of State Al Jaeger. Pictures center, in the back, is fellow measure organizer Ellen Chaffee.

A group of people in North Dakota calling themselves the North Dakotans for Public Integrity is really just a front group for a left wing group called Represent.US as the Associated Press uncovered recently. The ballot measure they’re pushing (or ballot measures, I guess) is just a local iteration of what Represent.US calls the American Anti-Corruption Act.

Basically what we have is a bunch of left wing activists who claim to be upset about money in politics. Except, based on their own actions, it really seems they’re just upset about money from interests they disagree with us.

“Represent.Us is a national, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization challenging the undue influence of well-financed interests over America politics through long term structural reform solutions,” the group states as its mission on their IRS documents.

But how is this for undue influence of well-financed instersts?

So far, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s disclosure database, the North Dakotans for Public Integrity have reported a massive contribution to their cause. A $15,500 gift from the folks at Represent.US.

How are the local activists using that money? According to online job listings, they’re hiring people to collect signatures for their measure effort. At Indeed.com a group called Advanced Mico Targeting, Inc. is advertising for local canvassers to collect signatures for this ballot measure. From their pitch:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, bipartisan groups have organized on the state level to hedge against some of the more deleterious effects of “dark money” in politics and have also sought to enforce higher ethical standards for our representatives. The changes proposed have to do with increasing transparency and accountability within elections as well as the day to day operations of our government. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, have tried to work through their respective statehouses, and citizens, where it is available, have worked through the initiative system to effectuate these changes in order to establish the best and most equitable forms of government for the people of those states.

Our firm has been hired to do the field operations and public outreach to generate support for that effort. We engage voters, outline the challenges and proposed solutions, and ask them to get involved. In ND, that movement is taking the form of a citizen initiated constitutional amendment. Our job is to contact voters and ask them to support that initiative.

Advanced Micro Tageting is a Las Vegas-based firm. This morning I called the number provided to the Secretary of State by the NDPI folks for comment on paying circulators, but they didn’t immediately return my call. I also emailed the committee. I’ll update this post if I hear anything back.

UPDATE: Ellen Chaffee, one of the leaders of this initiative, sends this response along which doesn’t really answer the question:

This effort is driven by North Dakotans for Public Integrity. The North Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment is the result of nearly a year of weekly meetings of over a dozen concerned North Dakota citizens from across the political spectrum who found common ground. This diverse group of North Dakotans included Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Libertarians. Input was received from former elected and appointed public officials, educators, public policy specialists, North Dakota attorneys, and national experts. There is a large network of North Dakotans who have volunteered to gather signatures and some paid canvassers will complement their efforts. The nonpartisan anti-corruption group Represent.Us, which has chapters in Bismarck and Fargo and more than 1,000 members in North Dakota, has committed to helping to fund our effort. The Anti-Corruption Amendment is not going to cost a lot to pass. Our internal polling reveals an extremely popular amendment that will be virtually impossible to beat. 

So, just to sum up, the North Dakotans for Public Integrity are so far pushing a law that was created by an out of state group. Based on disclosures so far they are funded almost exclusively by that group. And their strategy for putting this measure on the North Dakota is to rely not on volunteers passionate for the issue but professional signature collectors paid by their out of state contributions.

Anyone else detecting some hypocrisy?

I don’t have a problem with any interest spending money on politics, be it advocating for or against an issue or supporting/opposing candidates on the ballot. This is a free country. We should be allowed to spend our money on the political endeavors of our choice. But then, I’m also not backing an amendment to our state constitution born of angst over free people spending their money on politics freely.

So far the “North Dakotans” For Public Integrity have submitted three different versions of their measure to the Secretary of State for approval to be circulated. As of this morning, none of those three have been approved yet. Which isn’t a good thing given that they have to get over 26,000 signatures by July 9 to make the November ballot.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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