Depite trouble, conservation revenue backers paying petitioners again

By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

PAID PETITIONING: North Dakotans for Clean Water Wildlife and Parks, a coalition of interests backing a ballot measure to divert oil tax revenues to conservation projects, is using paid petition circulators again even after getting burned by signature fraud in the 2012 election cycle.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A coalition backing a ballot measure to divert oil revenue to conservation, stung by signature fraud two years ago, is again looking to hire petitioners.

A posting on North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks’ Facebook page links to a Craigslist ad for a position in Grand Forks for a “field organizer” to be paid $15 to $16 per hour.

“Tasks will include overseeing petitioning at the local level; recruiting, training and managing volunteers; researching community events and outreach opportunities; gathering signatures; tracking progress according to goals set for the community; providing daily reports to the field director; and functioning as a local face for the campaign,” the ad states.

The ad also says positions are “available in Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot and Dickinson.”

In the 2012 election cycle, a controversial ballot measure that would have diverted a big chunk of North Dakota’s oil tax revenue to a conservation fund was kept off the ballot when tens of thousands of signatures were invalidated.

Nearly a dozen members of the North Dakota State University championship football team hired to circulate the petitions, received community service sentences for gathering fake signatures.

The coalition promised they wouldn’t use paid petitioners in their effort to make the 2014 ballot.

“We’ve learned our lesson,” Steve Adair, regional director of operations for Ducks Unlimited, one of the groups backing the measure, said in February.

In September 2013, the Bismarck Tribune reported that “Sponsoring committee members said Thursday their goal is to have all petition circulators be volunteers if possible.”

The measure’s backers haven’t been shy about spending big money. In 2012, they paid a firm over $145,000 just to oversee signature collection efforts. According to their year-end filing with the secretary of state for 2013, North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has already spent $329,045.99 on its campaign.

In February, the group reported having nearly 10,000 signatures of the 26,904 required. The group has until August 6 to file its petitions with the secretary of state’s office and make the November 4 ballot.

You can reach Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org

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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