Supposed “Anti-Corruption” Amendment Supporters Don’t Get to Ignore the Text of Their Own Measure

Ethics Measure panelists were, from left, Susan Wefald, founder of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, Dina Butcher, president of North Dakota for Public Integrity, Geoff Simon, executive director of Western Dakota Energy Association and Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, chairman of the Government & Veterans Affairs Committee. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

North Dakota’s Measure 1, a constitutional amendment put on the ballot by professional signature collectors paid by Hollywood celebrity activists, is anti-free speech.

Don’t take my word for it. That’s the opinion of the ACLU of North Dakota which opposes the measure because it, as they said in a press release last month, “Our First Amendment Rights are too important to let this constitutional mandate pass.”

Heather Smith, executive director for the ACLU in North Dakota, told me on my radio show last week that they will consider litigation if the measure passes.

But the local front group for those Hollywood activists, the misnomered North Dakotans for Public Integrity, is now trying disputing the ACLU’s analysis of their measure. They’ve looped in the Campaign Legal Center, an activist group which backs restrictions on political speech and opposes court rulings protecting it, which supports the measure and disputes the idea that it would put burdensome reporting requirements on private citizens spending their own money to influence politics or the government.

You can read the full press release from NDPI below, and the CLC’s analysis here, but here’s an excerpt from the former which represents their argument in a nutshell:

In addition to affirming the constitutionality of Measure 1’s transparency requirements, the Campaign Legal Center also made clear that the measure will not place any new disclosure requirements on North Dakota voters engaging in ordinary political speech. The only increased transparency requirements will be on those who spend more than $200 to influence North Dakota elections or government.

As Corey Goldstone of the Campaign Legal Center stated: “The money [an] individual pays to stay at the Bismarck Hilton is not ‘funds spent to lobby,’” clarifying that there will be no new disclosure requirement for North Dakotans who spend personal money in service of contacting their legislators.

Problem is, that’s not what Measure 1 actually says. You can read the language in full here, but here’s Section 1 in its entirety (click for a larger view):

The important language is the requirement that the legislature enact laws mandating the “disclosure of the ultimate and true source of funds spent in any medium, in an amount greater than two hundred dollars, adjusted for inflation, to influence any statewide election, election for the legislative assembly, statewide ballot-issue election, or to lobby or otherwise influence state government action.”

Nowhere in that language does it say the Legislature can exempt anyone – be they a lobbyist or a private citizen or a member of the news media – from the reporting requirements. Measure 1 says the law must require the reporting of “funds spent in any medium” in an “amount greater than two hundred dollars.”

The state’s newspapers certainly spend more than $200 in a given political cycle on their opinion pages, reporting, and editorials. Private bloggers can easily spend that much on hosting fees and promotion for a website.

I don’t know how anyone can read the language of Measure 1 and conclude otherwise.

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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