North Dakota has a big problem with taxpayer-funded political activism. One recent example was the debate last summer over Measure 2 which, if it had passed on the June ballot, would have abolished property taxes in the state. Organizations like the Association of Counties and League of Cities, funded almost exclusively by tax dollars, did an end-run around legal prohibitions on using taxpayer resources for political activities and were central to the “Keep It Local ND” campaign against the measure.
Which meant that group of citizens supporting the measure through a campaign of volunteers were shouted down by a slick opposition campaign funded with their own tax dollars. Whatever you might have thought of Measure 2, that wasn’t fair.
Nor is it fair when the Diversion Authority Board, created by local government and funded with tax dollars, begins an “outreach campaign” which would hire public relations consultants, buy advertising and coordinate letter writing according to the Fargo Forum. The DAB is afraid that public opinion is turning against their flood diversion project due to push back from opponents (many of whom have written guest posts here on SAB), and wants to begin a campaign of their own.
But is that an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars? Should those opposed to the DAB’s agenda have to combat their own tax dollars in this fight? State law (specifically the corrupt practices section of state election law) prohibits the use of taxpayer resources for political purposes, with political purposes defined as supporting or opposing any candidate, political party or initiated measure. So, legally speaking, the DAB is probably in the clear.
Ethically speaking, they’re clearly in the wrong.
The proper source of funding for any pro-diversion campaign should be private funds. Surely if this flood diversion project is as important to Fargo and surrounding communities as supporters say it is there should be a ready source of funds from businesses and individuals to make that case. If there isn’t, then maybe that’s sort of telling.
This fight was already a sort of David vs. Goliath affair. Mighty Fargo, with the biggest population in the state and the most political clout, is squaring off against rural communities over a plan that would send Fargo’s flood waters (and headaches) to the smaller communities. I’ve never seen that as fair (I think the headaches from floods ought to be kept with the people who chose to build and live near a river), but wherever you come down on this issue I don’t think anyone is well-served by a government propaganda campaign in favor of the project.