Back in February the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the State Bar Association of North Dakota on behalf of an attorney in the state over the use of lawyer licensing fees for politics.
Basically, the SBAND spent almost $50,000 fighting Measure 6 (the shared parenting measure) on the 2014 ballot. The SBAND told me in October that opposing the ballot measure wasn’t a political issue, which sort of strains belief, but they also seemed to be acknowledging that there was an issue because they were giving prorated refund of lawyer fees to their members.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]That’s all well and good – lawyers have the same rights to engage in the political process as the rest of us – but it becomes problematic when the the group is also receiving mandatory state fees.[/mks_pullquote]
Now it seems they may be in the process of changing their policies regarding this sort of thing as part of a pending settlement with the Goldwater Institute. Mike Nowatzki has more on that here.
What I’m wondering is if the State of North Dakota doesn’t need to take licensing authority away from SBAND entirely. Frankly, I’m not sure a change in policy in how the SBAND separates its political activities from its regularity activities is enough.
I’m not sure that a group which advocates for lawyers when it comes to political issues should be the same group that is also in charge of licensing lawyers.
Remember, lawyer licensing fees are not optional. If you want to be a lawyer in the State of North Dakota you have to pay fees to the SBAND. That’s the law. But the SBAND is also active politically. They’ve started campaigns opposing ballot measures in the past, and they also lobby the Legislature among other activities.
That’s all well and good – lawyers have the same rights to engage in the political process as the rest of us – but it becomes problematic when the the group is also receiving mandatory state fees.
Whatever settlement comes out of the Goldwater Institute lawsuit, I think lawmakers should take a long and hard look at creating a firewall between occupational regulation and occupational advocacy, and not just for lawyers. It’s fine if lawyers or doctors or dentists or any other group of professionals want to band together to take a position on a political issue, but the groups they form should be private and separate from regulatory entities.