Big money backs, opposes North Dakota conservation measure


By Rob Port | North Dakota Bureau

COSTLY SIGNATURES: A coalition of conservation and environmental interests submitted over 41,000 signatures to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday in support of a constitutional amendment diverting oil tax revenues into a conservation fund.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A petition drive to create a constitutional conservation fund in North Dakota hasn’t even made the ballot yet and already groups for and against it are spending big money.

Putting a constitutional measure on the statewide ballot in North Dakota requires 26,904 signatures. On Monday, North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks submitted what it described as “more than 41,000 petition signatures” to Secretary of State Al Jaeger, roughly 14,000 more signatures than required.

That big number of signatures cost the conservationists a pretty penny.

According to disclosures made to the Secretary of State’s Office, North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks spent $329,046 in 2013, ending the year with $109,149 in cash on hand. The petitions supporting the measure weren’t approved for circulation by Jaeger until August 29, 2013.

In 2012, the group collected $691,996 in contributions and spent $255,370, but failed to get a similar measure on the ballot due to fraudulent petition signatures. In 2013, the group spent another $328,728, but reported collecting only $1,569 in contributions.

Most of the money fueling the group comes from out-of-state sources. Of the more than $692,000 in contributions greater than $100 reported to the secretary of state since 2012, more than 95 percent has come from individuals and groups outside of North Dakota.

Financing for the measure push in 2014 isn’t yet clear. State law doesn’t require committees supporting ballot measures to file any finance disclosures until 32 days before the November election, but one of the most visible members of the coalition has spent big on political activities this year. Ducks Unlimited has made over $538,000 in direct expenditures so far in 2014.

Steve Adair is the Great Plains Region director for Ducks Unlimited and also serves as chairman of the committee sponsoring the measure.

Pheasants Forever, a group based in St. Paul, Minn., also contributed $25,000 to the measure effort.

On the other side of the issue, North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation — a coalition made up of agriculture, energy and business groups — has already spent $100,000 on a television ad campaign opposing the measure. The coalition was formed in 2014 and hasn’t yet filed a financial disclosure with the secretary of state.

Jaeger has until Sept. 8 to verify the signatures supporting the measure and approve it for the November ballot. The election will be held on Nov. 4.