Marsy’s Law for North Dakota Is Being Funded Exclusively by a California Billionaire

Shane Goettle, a member of the committee sponsoring Marsy's Law, speaks at a press conference in the state capitol on Tuesday morning prior to petitions, shown in front of podium, being delivered to the Secretary of State's office. In back from left are Marsha Lembke, Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert, Kelly Leben of the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department, Lacee Anderson, Kathleen Wrigley and Nicole Peske. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

I’ve come to be very distrustful of the initiated measure process. While we all have measures we’ve supported or opposed, I do think there is something fundamentally problematic about legislating at the ballot box. I don’t like the idea of interests, even if I might be inclined to agree with their goals, buying their way onto the ballot with professional petitioners and marketing teams doing the heavy lifting.

A particularly egregious example of this is Marsy’s Law, which is Measure 3 on the November ballot.

Since the beginning of this year the measure campaign has raised over $2.002 million and spent nearly $1.4 million, with every penny of it coming from California billionaire Henry Nicholas.

Here’s a screenshot of the measure committee’s Pre-General campaign finance report filed with the Secretary of State’s office today. You can read the full report below.

nicholas

If we add to those figures the more than $417,000 contributed entirely by Nicholas to the measure committee in 2015, we come to a total of nearly $2.5 million – contributed by one man and nobody else – spent to amend North Dakota’s constitution.

Note that in the report there aren’t even any contributions under $100. All of the money is from Nicholas. That’s a little chilling. Not the sort of thing those who crated the initiated measure process had in mind, I think.

Of course, what matters most at the end of the day is the quality of the policy being proposed. If this were good law we could and should overlook the fact that it appears to be the pet project of a California tech billionaire. But it’s not good policy, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Representatives of the North Dakota legal community, and several victims rights groups, oppose this measure.

…what matters most at the end of the day is the quality of the policy being proposed. If this were good law we could and should overlook the fact that it appears to be the pet project of a California tech billionaire.

The North Dakota Victim’s Assistance AssociationCAWS North Dakota, the North Dakota Women’s Network, the North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the North Dakota State’s Attorneys’ Association, the North Dakota Trial Lawyers, and the First Nations Womens Alliance all oppose this measure.

Former Attorney General Bob Wefald, who spent years serving as a district court judge, is chairing the committee opposed to this measure. “He’s trying to buy a constitutional amendment to put his sister’s nickname in our constitution, and it won’t work,” he told reporter Mike Nowatzki of Nicholas in response to these fundraising numbers. “North Dakotans do not want their constitution manipulated by out-of-state money.”

The “out of state money” thing is a frequent boogeyman in North Dakota politics. Certainly I’ve pointed it out in the past, because it is important to understand where the support for political candidates and initiatives comes from, but I’m not sure how effective a talking point it is.

In this instance, though, this measure is so clearly and egregiously an out-of-state pet project that I think voters are going to be turned off. Not just because nobody actually from North Dakota seems to be willing to invest a penny to see this measure pass, but because the people lining up against Mr. Nicholas’ pet project are respected leaders in the state who work on all sides of the criminal justice system.

Their voices should speak louder than that of a billionaire from California.

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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