In a Bizarre Move Ethics Commission Activists File Two Additional Versions of Their Ballot Measure With the Secretary of State

Back in late January a group of left wing activists calling themselves North Dakotans for Public Integrity submitted a ballot measure to create a state ethics commission to Secretary of State Al Jaeger for approval.

In late February I reported that this group was considering two additional iterations of their ballot measure, including one that doesn’t have an ethics commission at all.

Word from the group today, by way of an email sent out by co-chairwoman Dina Butcher, is that they’ve submitted these two additional versions of their ballot measure to the Secretary of State for approval.

You can read the email in full below. Here’s an excerpt:

All three versions of the Anti-Corruption Amendment include the same six common sense accountability reforms:

  1. Increasing transparency: Requires that all significant amounts of money raised or spent to influence elections be fully disclosed and placed online for the public to see.
  2. Preventing personal use of campaign money: Protects the ban on personal use of campaign contributions for personal expenses by enshrining it in the constitution.  
  3. Banning lobbyist gifts: Restricts lobbyist gifts to public officials.  
  4. Banning foreign money from elections: Prohibits campaign contributions and election spending by foreign countries, foreign corporations, and foreign nationals.
  5. Closing the revolving door: Bans elected public officials from also serving as lobbyists, and makes it illegal for public officials to take jobs as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
  6. Rooting out conflicts of interest: Strengthens conflict-of-interest rules for members of state agencies.

The differences between the three versions are about how best to enforce those rules. The first version filed on January 31 includes an ethics commission with a specific budget and dedicated funding source for ethics law enforcement. The second version filed today includes an ethics commission with a requirement that the legislature adequately fund ethics law enforcement. The third version does not include an ethics commission or any funding requirements.

The first version of their ballot measure has not been approved “because a proof copy has not been submitted to this office,” Secretary Jaeger said in a release about these latest submissions which just landed in my inbox.

“While somewhat common in the membership of the three sponsoring committees, each petition is considered a separate submission by each sponsoring committee and will be processed accordingly,” he added. You can see the PDF’s of the latest submissions here and here.

I can certainly understand the desire to build a consensus around a specific proposal, but why are they submitting all of the possibilities to the Secretary of State’s office? “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,” was all Ellen Chaffee, another co-chair of the effort, would tell me when I wrote about this last month.

If it’s just about deciding the specifics of the policy you want to propose, why not have that debate and reach a consensus before you formally submit anything?

But maybe that’s not it.

At that time I had been provided an email from Butcher and Chaffee to potential supporters of the measure. In it they said their purpose was 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.”

So I guess what they’re doing is submitting versions of their petition until they get language they want?

Needless to say, this isn’t a typical thing.

What’s more, time’s wasting. State law governs the time state officials can take in approving a submitted petition. It’s not less than five business days, and not more than seven. The group is saying they filed the two most recent iterations of their measure today. That means approval is going to come toward the middle of March.

They will then have until July 9 to collect the 26,904 valid signatures they’ll need to put this constitutional amendment on the November ballot. They have no chance to make the June ballot since that deadline came and went last month.

That’s a heavy lift, even for interests with deep pockets who can pay petitioners to collect signatures.

Will the backers of an ethics commission, who are campaigning against money in politics, really be willing to pay petition circulators?

Anyway, here’s today’s 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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