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Anti-corruption measure headed for North Dakota ballot

Dina Butcher, left, hands North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger a proposed petition for a ballot measure to add anti-corruption policies to the state constitution Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota voters will decide whether to add anti-corruption language to the state's constitution this fall, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday, July 23.

The announcement marks the first ballot measure confirmed to have the sufficient number of signatures to reach voters on Nov. 6. Three others, including one legalizing recreational marijuana, have submitted signatures to Jaeger's office.

The sponsoring committee proposing the anti-corruption language submitted 38,451 signatures in mid-June and 36,849 were accepted, well above the 26,904 needed for a constitutional amendment, Jaeger's office said.

The measure would prevent lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials and would establish an ethics commission that could investigate public officials, candidates and lobbyists. It would also prevent public officials from being a lobbyist while holding office and for two years after leaving their post, as well as require state agency leaders to "avoid the appearance of bias."

State lawmakers would be required to pass legislation mandating "public disclosure of the ultimate and true source of funds" spent to influence elections and state government actions under the measure.

Campaign finance records show the effort has received significant backing from Represent.Us, a Massachusetts-based group that focuses on passing anti-corruption measures across the country, as well as Voters Right to Know in California and End Citizens United from Washington, D.C.

Dina Butcher, chairwoman of the measure's sponsoring committee, said she was "delighted" to see the ballot measure's approval and was confident North Dakotans would vote in its favor. She noted it would be harder for policymakers to repeal the measure like South Dakota did last year because the North Dakota language would be etched into the constitution.

"This amendment will upend the corrupt system and restore power to North Dakota families," said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, a political action committee established after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the famous political spending case.

But Fargo Republican state Rep. Jim Kasper said the constitutional amendment is unnecessary and painted the campaign as an avenue to boost Democratic voter turnout.

"Everybody is for ethical behavior," he said. "The fact of the matter is, this is not the way to do it."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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