Over the weekend reporter Tu-Uyen Tran published a really, really good look at North Dakota’s far-too-lax campaign disclosure laws in the context of the very heated, and very expensive gubernatorial primary fight between Republicans Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Burgum.
The impression Tran’s report should leave is that North Dakota’s campaign disclosure laws simply aren’t good enough.
I’ve written about this before – here’s a post from 2014, and another from 2015 – because it’s an important issue. As it stands right now, there is a lot of information political candidates in North Dakota simply don’t have to disclose to the public.
Candidates don’t have to file a report itemizing campaign spending. Candidates don’t have to report how much of their own money they’ve spent on their campaign. Candidates don’t have to disclose contributions of $200 and under. Also, candidates don’t even have to report what few details they’re required to disclose all that often.
Some of that is because in years past tracking campaign finance data, compiling it into accurate reports, and submitting those reports to the government for disclosure to the public was labor intensive and costly. But we live in a digital age now. That excuse simply doesn’t cut it any more.
I see no reason why the law shouldn’t require bi-weekly or even weekly reports during the campaign season of every single penny raised by a given political campaign along with an itemized accounting of how every single penny was spent.
I’m not a fan of campaign finance reform, generally. Political spending is political speech, I think, and should be unrestricted. But I do believe in disclosure. I do think we should know where politicians get their money and how they spend that money.
North Dakota’s lawmakers should fix this situation.
To their credit, the Democrats in the Legislature have been working to institute more disclosure requirements (though those proposals have been mixed in with some really bad ideas), but even what they’ve been pushing doesn’t go nearly far enough.