Halloween must be coming because there sure are a lot of boogiemen out there trying to scare you into doing the right thing. For them. I’ve been getting flyers in the mail more frightening than Stephen King novels, Shark Week or a Kavanaugh tantrum.
According to one mailer, the scariest thing facing North Dakotans is Measure 1 — the ethics bill. How could ethics threaten a just and democratic society, you ask? What, have you been sleeping under a rock? If the awesome power of ethics fell into the wrong hands it could undermine our entire system of governance. This is dicey territory. It’s like splitting a political atom.
Measure 1 would create an ethics commission, prohibit foreign political contributions, restrict gifts from lobbyists, make campaign finance more transparent and address conflicts of interest.
Thankfully, an organization called “North Dakotans For Sound Government” has leapt to our defense like knights in three-piece suits against “shady elite out-of-state interests” that want to usurp our politicians’ right to sell us out to other “shady elite out-of-state interests.”
Rally ’round the flag, boys, this is serious. According to the flyer — and I take them at their word — Measure 1 would “override ALL other rights and protections in the North Dakota Constitution,” leaving us defenseless against the scourge of ethics. If this passes, it will look like a “Mad Max” movie out there.
You can tell a lot about a measure by who’s against it. The chairman of this group is Geoff Simon, the executive director of the Western Dakota Energy Association. Numerous energy interests, including the North Dakota Petroleum Council, have donated tens of thousands to the campaign to defend lawmakers’ inalienable right to take free fact-finding missions to tropical climates. Fargo representative and global explorer Jim Kasper also came out forcefully against Measure 1. Not that he’s against the idea. He’s searched the globe in vain for better ethics.
So far, just North Dakota and five other states with Alamo-like resolve have fended off ethics commissions armed with little more than bullet points, muskets, coonskin caps and dark money.
Most Republicans are allergic to Measure 1, but here’s how it would work: The five-person commission would be selected by the governor along with the majority and minority leaders of the state Senate. With a blue wave unlikely in landlocked North Dakota, this means Republicans would control the commission roughly for, uh, forever.
Their opposition can mean just one thing. They realize they can’t be trusted with ethics. It would be like giving an AR-15 equipped with with a bump stock, armor-piercing bullets and a 150-round drum — thanks NRA — to a toddler hopped up on Benadryl.
Inexplicably, the ACLU, long a trusted enemy of the people, flipped. It opposes the measure, too! In its legal opinion, the measure restricts political speech because political expenditures of $200 or more must be reported.
In my legal opinion, give me a break. Grandma and Grandpa aren’t going to prison for driving to Bismarck, yelling at legislators, eating at Olive Garden and staying overnight at the Kelly Inn. The hysteria surrounding this measure and Measure 3 — recreational marijuana — is unprecedented. I’ve never seen so many snowflakes. And this is North Dakota.
Do you know who else is against Measure 1? God. It’s true. The North Dakota Catholic Conference believes the required reporting of money spent on lobbying is too onerous despite the church’s longstanding tradition of transparency. With God, all things are possible. Except, apparently, bookkeeping.
It’s up to you. Vote. Defend our politicians against ethics. I’ll leave you with the immortal words of someone in the third stall of the all-gender bathroom at the state capitol: “Ethics are unethical.”
© Tony Bender 2018