The dynamics around legislation to create an Outdoor Heritage Fund have taken a turn to the interesting. Last year an initiated measure to create the fund which would have no cap on revenues, and no oversight from the state’s elected leaders, was kept off the ballot by petition fraud perpetrated by a group of NDSU football players. But the possibility for the measure, which would have potentially diverted hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund controlled by a board of special interest groups who could spend it with few limitations, spooked state leaders who introduced a watered down version of the bill to be passed during the session.

That bill, HB1278, was introduced by Rep. Todd Porter (R-Bismarck), and would cap the revenues for the fund at $30 million per biennium and give the State Industrial Commission final say on how the money is spent. But conservation activists, wanting more money and less input from elected leaders, quietly tried to scuttle Rep. Porter’s bill in favor of one offered by Sen. Tyler Axness (D-Fargo) which would enshrine the board in the state government and raise the cap to $100 million.

Rep. Porter, not surprisingly, was ticked and stripped three of the conservation groups granted a seat on the board in his bill out of the legislation:

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, is the prime sponsor of HB1278. Porter said he was disappointed by a measure introduced by Democrats that would amend the state’s constitution to create the fund.

“It raised a lot of eyebrows among various groups,” Porter told the committee. He said various conservation groups in the state tried to kill HB1278.

Porter’s original bill would have included Ducks Unlimited, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust Fund, Pheasants Forever and an at-large conservation group on a 12-member advisory board.

Under Porter’s bill, the state Industrial Commission would have the final say in how the funds, capped at $30 million a biennium, would be distributed to state, local or tribal agencies, nonprofits or political subdivisions for projects.

Porter offered an amendment to his bill Thursday, taking Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Land Trust off the advisory committee established under his bill.

Porter told the Tribune he believes the three groups tried to kill his bill.

The positions those groups would have held on the board would become at-large seats.

I’m still wondering why Republicans would be backing this idea at all. Dumping money into fund to be spent by special interests is poor public policy. We shouldn’t be enshrining political activism in state government. What’s next, a board to fund activism on the abortion issue? The gun rights issue? Where does this end?

I understand that Republicans are afraid that these groups, who have very deep pockets (they had millions in their coffers to pass their measure last year), will pass something much worse on the statewide ballot, but that’s an argument for Republicans opposing the ballot initiative. Not introducing something that is only less bad in the legislature.

Republicans are selling Rep. Porter’s version of the bill as one that limits keeps the conservation activists in a box, but it’s clear that they’re not going to settle for being in that box and given that they’re already talking about workarounds for things like the prohibition on buying up private property, it’s time to put this bad idea to bed.

If North Dakota is going to fund conservation, let it be a decision made by elected officials in the legislature not a board of political activists funded with our tax dollars.