Why Are Conservationists Being So Coy About Their Signature Collection Efforts?

The activists backing a constitutional amendment to fund conservation with oil tax dollars – called the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment – have been making a full-court press for signatures. They need 26,904 signatures from North Dakota citizens by August 6th to make the November ballot.

In 2013 alone they group spent over $329,000 organizing in support of petitioning efforts, and there’s no doubt they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more this cycle. Including dollars spent on professional petitioners (despite promises to stick to volunteers after fraud derailed their measure in 2012).

Yet, strangely, the group is playing coy with how many signatures they’ve collected. “North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Becky Jones Mahlum declined to reveal how many signatures have been gathered so far,” reports Nick Smith for the Bismarck Tribune. “The last update on the group’s signature count, in February, showed about 10,000 signatures.”

The group maintains that their goal is over 40,000 signatures. They also say that they aren’t going to turn in signatures until shortly before the deadline.

But if signature collection efforts are going well, why isn’t this group providing updates on how many signatures they’ve collected? Given the amount of money these well-monied activist groups have poured into this effort, you wouldn’t think that that 27,000 signatures would be a heavy lift. But apparently it is.

That may speak to just how unpopular this amendment is. Especially considering the laundry list of business, agriculture, energy and real estate interests that have lined up against the measure. They’ve organized themselves under the banner of North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, and their membership reads like a who’s-who of interest groups in the state from both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Given the size of the organized resistance to the measure, and the reticence the conservationists have for disclosing the signatures they’ve collected so far, things aren’t looking good for passing this measure.

I’m sure it will make the ballot – you can’t spend the sort of money they’ve spent and not make the ballot (unless there’s fraud like in 2012) – but it doesn’t seem likely that North Dakotans are going to give it majority approval.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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