Backers of Ballot Measure to Create an Ethics Commission Now Maybe Don’t Want an Ethics Commission

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. Both are now asking supporters to consider a measure without an ethics commission.

As I noted earlier this month, there are a lot of left-of-center ballot measures in the works this election cycle, but it’s been a rocky road for some of them.

A measure aimed at overturning the state’s Sunday closing laws flopped when it’s organizer decided to run for the Legislature as a Democrat instead. A measure to increase the state’s oil extraction tax survived only for a couple of weeks before falling apart.

Now it seems there’s some chaos in the ranks of the proposed ballot measure to amend North Dakota’s state constitution to create an ethics commission. Organizers of that effort now want their supporters to sign off on two alternate iterations of the proposal in addition to the one already submitted to the Secretary of State’s office for approval.

A source familiar with the situation who spoke with me on condition of anonymity called the situation a “clusterf**k” and a “disaster” which hasn’t been “warmly received” by some measure organizers have asked for support.

A source familiar with the situation who spoke with me on condition of anonymity called the situation a “clusterf**k” and a “disaster” which hasn’t been “warmly received” by some measure organizers have asked for support.

My source shared with me an email sent out by Dina Butcher and Ellen Chaffee, the organizers of the effort which you can read in full below. They claim that the additional iterations of the proposed measure are all about getting a favorable ballot title.

“In order to maximize the likelihood of success in November, we have decided to submit two more petitions to the Secretary of State,” they write. “We will then use only one of the three, of course. Our goal is to secure from the Secretary and the Attorney General the most favorable possible ballot title, which will be what the voters see on their official ballots. The title plays a major role in a ballot measure’s success.”

Yet, despite this claim, the different ballot measures are substantially different. In fact, one version doesn’t have an ethics commission at all:

Version A includes the same policies as before in Sections 1 and 2, and it has a considerably simplified version of the ethics commission,” the email states.

You can read that version here.

According to the email, “Version B has the policies without the ethics commission,” they continue.

You can read that version here.

Remember that Butcher and Chaffee have already submitted a version of their measure to the Secretary of State’s office (that version is here). That they’re now seeking revisions and alternates to what they’ve submitted speaks to a level of dissatisfaction with it even among their supporters, especially given the relatively short timeline they’re operating on. The deadline for submitting signatures to get a measure on the June ballot is already more than a week past. Butcher and Chaffee’s organization only has until July 9 to submit 26,904 signatures to make the November ballot.

Trust me, that’s a heavy lift even if you use paid petitioners, a move that would likely create a negative perception for a group of people campaigning against the use of money in politics.

“Please do not distribute the drafts further, to prevent confusion with the official version that will circulate after possible revisions through the Secretary of State verification process,” Chaffee and Butcher request in the email. But as the reaction of my source makes clear, this request is already creating confusion.

I’m pretty shocked that they’re considering a version of their measure without an ethics commission. That specific proposal has been a rallying cry for North Dakota Democrats for years now.

Maybe, as they learned with the oil tax issue, their position isn’t as popular as they thought.

I’ve reached out to Chaffee and Butcher requesting comment. I’ll update this post with anything I receive.

UPDATE: “North Dakotans for Public Integrity is exploring three different versions of the Anti-Corruption Amendment based on public input and will soon decide on supporting one of those options based on the preferences of North Dakotans,” Chaffee told me in an email.

Rob Port is the editor of, 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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