TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Boogiemen

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

5 thoughts on “TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Boogiemen”

  • DINA BUTCHER October 10, 2018 at 8:19 am

    i could not have said it better, Tony. Goliath= Booo-gey men from afar. David= North Dakotans for Public Integrity, Inc. and Badass Grandmas. I trust the common sense that the majority of North Dakota voters possess to ignore those flashy, nasty, laden with falsehoods POSTERS arriving in the mail and for some in their pews, that look like all the other NASTY over sized very expensive mailers that will continue to provide fuel for fireplaces across ND. Those common sense voters will vote YES on Measure 1 because it is a common sense accountability measure. .

  • Jackie Brodshaug October 10, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Excellent article Tony, but you forgot to mention Measure 1 was created under the leadership of a group of women who are all experienced leaders in North Dakota. I suppose they’re part of the angry mob (Pres. Trump) that people like me are proud to join in an arm waving foot-stomping dance.
    Maybe people who donate to campaigns don’t really want to know where their money went or how it was used.

  • Geoff Simon October 12, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    Tony – You mock and attempt to disparage the well-intentioned opponents of this measure, but have you honestly read the language and understand its implications? You’re caught up in this too. Section 1.2 of the measure requires disclosure of the “ultimate and true source of funds” from anyone (including bloggers and opinion writers) who spend more than $200 to “influence state government action.” So please turn over your sources of income and tell us how much you’ve spent, or be prepared to tell a judge that you aren’t really trying to influence public policy. Because I can pretty much guarantee that if this measure passes, someone will use the “confidential whistleblower hotline” (Section 3.2) to turn you into the ethics commission for failure to comply with the measure.

    Seriously, read this sentence and tell me why you would be exempt?

    “The legislative assembly shall implement and enforce this section by enacting, no more than three years after the effective date of this article, laws that require prompt, electronically accessible, plainly comprehensible, public 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.”

    1. tony bender October 14, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      To imagine that this will somehow overturn the First Amendment protections of a free press is a silly distraction. Any one who really wants to defend a free press should defend the transparency this measure demands.

      1. Geoff Simon October 16, 2018 at 7:29 am

        The point is, this measure is classic overreach. Its overly broad disclosure language would sweep in all sorts of unintended people, groups and organizations. It’s so extreme, churches that dabble in social issues would be forced to provide the government a list of parishoners and their contributions (is that anti-corruption?). It would also compel media and bloggers to disclose the “ultimate and true source of funds” from their subscribers and advertisers.”

        Words have meaning, and this measure contains no exceptions. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the legislature cannot change it. And if the fact it’s a constitutional measure wasn’t enough, the measure actually contains language that prevents the legislature from limiting its scope – Section 4.1, the legislature may not “hamper, restrict, or impair, this article.”

        You’re right, it wouldn’t overturn the First Amendment, but it’s a clear violation of it. And establishing that reality would require someone to file suit in federal court, resulting in litigation that would cost taxpayers a ton of money.

        But by all means, more transparency.


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