Draft of Potential Ethics Amendment Ballot Measure Being Circulated by Former Democratic Lt. Governor Candidate

Ryan Taylor announces Ellen Chaffee as a Dem-NPL candidate for lieutenant governor during a press conference Wednesday, March 14, 2012, in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Ellen Chaffee, a former President of Valley City and Mayville State Universities and a stalwart of the left wing of North Dakota’s Democratic Party, has been circulating a proposed ballot measure which would amend North Dakota’s state constitution to, among other things, create an ethics commission.

You might remember that Chaffee was also Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ryan Taylor’s running mate back in 2012.

I obtained a draft copy of the measure by way of a source asked to be on the sponsoring committee. I’m told that Dina Butcher, a former member of the NDGOP who mostly donates to Democratic candidates these days but is used by Democrats to give the various initiatives the appearance of bipartisanship, is also a possible sponsor of the measure.

You can read the full draft below.

this sort of complicated policy shouldn’t be a constitutional amendment. It should be statute. And provisions – such as a law preventing the diversion of campaign dollars to private use and preventing contributions from foreigners – are already in statute.

Keeping in mind that this is a draft, and may change by the time it’s submitted for circulation to voters, the provisions range from the duplicative to the pointless.

To start with, this sort of complicated policy shouldn’t be a constitutional amendment. It should be statute. And provisions – such as a law preventing the diversion of campaign dollars to private use and preventing contributions from foreigners – are already in statute.

And while Democrats have been harping about the need for an ethics commission for years, I’m dubious as to the utility. Some of the most corrupt states in the union have one sort of ethics enforcement body or another. Congress has all sorts of ethics committees. Have they made politics in those places less corrupt? Or have the various ethics committees become little more than a venue for partisan point scoring?

North Dakota is best served by transparency, I think. And we can make improvements in that regard (this draft amendment addresses transparency but only in a very superficial way), and if we made those improvements I think we could improve ethics in the state.

I’m not surprised that partisan activists like Chaffee like the idea of an ethics commission. It’s a powerful weapon, but if history from other states/levels of government tells us anything, it’s most often wielded not for the public good but for the good of one political faction or another.

I’m interested in seeing the final version of this amendment. Maybe they’ll make changes which will improve it. But as this stands now it’s really, really bad public policy.

I’ve reached out to Chaffee for comment. I’ll update the post if I receive anything.

UPDATE: Chaffee responded saying, “I will make sure you get a press release and final copy at the same time as other reporters.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, 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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