After Fraud, And Despite Promises To Rely On Volunteers, Conservation Activists Paying Petition Circulators Again

In the 2012 election cycle a ballot measure which would have diverted an enormous chunk of oil and gas tax revenues to conservation spending, overseen by a panel of appointed special interests, was derailed after a group of NDSU football players and a few others, were caught engaging in rampant signature fraud. Tens of thousands of signatures were tossed by the Secretary of State and the measure was kept off the ballot.

Now the same interests are circulating another petition to put that measure on the ballot, and they’ve claimed that they’re going to avoid paid circulators this time, instead relying on volunteers.

They say as much on their website:

You may recall a possible measure from 2012, called the North Dakota Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage amendment. That measure did not qualify for the ballot due to fraud committed by paid signature gatherers. Those individuals took away our chance to protect our clean water, land and outdoor heritage in 2012, but we have a new opportunity now to right that wrong. Our campaign is aiming to run an all-volunteer signature gathering effort to ensure we make the November 2014 ballot.

Back in September, Bismarck Tribune reporter Nick Smith wrote that “Sponsoring committee members said Thursday their goal is to have all petition circulators be volunteers if possible. So far, the group has enlisted about 350 volunteers statewide.”

In February Steve Adair of Ducks Unlimited, one of the groups backing the measure, said “”We’ve learned our lesson,” when it comes to paying for petition circulators.

But an ad listed on Craigslist suggests that these folks have broken their promise to rely on volunteers, and maybe haven’t learned their lesson after all. The ad offers $15-$16/hour for people willing to collect signatures, and organize signature collection efforts, and encourages those interested to contact the North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks office in Fargo.

I’ve printed a PDF of the ad and embedded it below in case it should be taken down.

The special interests pushing this measure haven’t been bashful about throwing money at it. In 2012 they paid a firm over $145,000 just to oversee signature collection efforts. The 2014 cycle is no different.

According to their filing with the Secretary of State for 2013, North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has already spent $329,045.99 and their measure isn’t even on the ballot yet.

The money has gone to some major consulting groups as well, including Hamburger Strategies out of Washington DC ($41,822.72), Active Roots Consulting out of Seattle ($34,500) and Public Opinion Strategies out of Virginia ($36,070.53).

That hardly sounds like the stuff of a grassroots, North Dakota-based movement.

These activist groups like Ducks Unlimited will try to paint themselves as a movement organic to North Dakota, but really this an exercise in big-money politics muscling its way through what is supposed to be a very populist sort of democracy.

In February this group said they had about 10,000 signatures. They have until August 6th of this year to file over 26,000 valid signatures with the Secretary of State to make the November ballot (the deadline for the June ballot has come and gone back in March).

Craigslist Ad

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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