Moorhead, Minnesota (October 11, 2018) – The Chamber’s board of directors, following the recommendation of the Public Policy committee, on September 27, voted unanimously to oppose North Dakota Measure 1, an initiative that calls for provisions that are already part of state law, requires invasive reporting requirements, as well as creates an unelected, unregulated ethics commission without a predicted fiscal impact, essentially handing them a blank checkbook with no fiscal accountability.
President and CEO of The Chamber, Craig Whitney, said: “We are fortunate to live in a state where our elected officials carry as a badge of honor and commitment to their constituents, the highest level of ethical standards. The Chamber Board, staff and volunteers adhere to these same levels of ethical standards as we hold our elected officials to.” This constitutional measure, however, has broad negative unintended consequences that prove a threat to our government and political process.
Section 1.2 of the measure institutes intrusive reporting requirements seeking the “ultimate and true source” of funds (exceeding $200) used to influence elections or lobby/influence state government action. Though transparency is of the upmost importance, this section may be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Under this measure, it would be required for private individuals, businesses, charities, religious organizations, media and other entities who wish to engage in the political process through taking an active stance on elections or other state government actions, to disclose membership lists, sponsors, donors or any other direct expenditures that have contributed $200 or more. “This would include organizations such as a Chamber of Commerce, who could potentially be faced with a requirement to report all members who have contributed over $200 and how much they invested in the organization,” Whitney said. This provision could have a dramatic effect on individuals’ right to privacy and free speech. This section of the measure is in itself extremely troubling to our Board of Directors and numerous member businesses.
Another point that raises concern within Measure 1 is the ability for citizen lawsuits against the state by any taxpayer who feels they haven’t been provided proper transparency. The language used opens the potential of litigation against the state by any individual who feels they haven’t received complete information regarding funds used to influence elections or in lobbying efforts. This in itself would lead to an increasing cost of state government.
The cost of state government has the potential to increase even further with this measures creation of an ethics commission. This commission, according to Section 3.3, shall receive “adequate funds for the proper carrying out of the functions and duties of the commission.” These rules of which Section 3.2 says, “The ethics commission may adopt.” Thus, the language of adequate funds related to carrying out not yet written rules provides yet another concern for the potential rise in cost of state government. “As the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget said, they can’t determine the fiscal impact of this measure yet, citing the fact that the measure doesn’t specify if the commission will reside in a paid agency or if paid employees will be needed,” said Sara Hanstad, vice chair of The Chamber’s Public Policy committee.
Also within Section 3, the ethics commission is required to “maintain a confidential whistleblower hotline” whereby a person can submit information to be investigated. With open record and meeting laws already in place, this section provides no additional protection for the alleged violator raising serious concerns for the due process of our citizens and the potential for elections and other important parts of our political process to be targeted for attack.
Section 2.5 refers to the “appearance of bias to a reasonable person” broadly, requiring constitutional officers and agency heads to disqualify themselves in any quasi-judicial proceeding where monetary or in-kind support related to that person’s elected office creates an appearance of bias to a reasonable person. Though the purpose of this provision is understandable, due to the lack of definition in “appearance of bias to a reasonable person,” the possibility for constitutional officers to be indirectly forced to not accept contributions from individuals and corporations for fear of not being able to carry out their duties by presiding or voting on a hearing where the individual or corporation has a stake is possible.
This measure ends with a supremacy clause allowing the danger of this measure to prevail over any conflicts arising regarding free speech, religion, or equal protection, unless federal litigation or another constitutional measure were to come about.
It should be noted that The Chamber recognizes many of the positive provisions regarding ethics in this measure to already be part of North Dakota constitution and state law. Thus, we fully support these aspects including provisions in relation to bribery, conflict of interest, disclosure of contributions to candidates and ballot measures, disclosure of gifts valued at more than $60, personal use of campaign funds, and requirements of open meetings. By opposing this measure, we aren’t implying that laws related to ethics and transparency have no ability to be improved.
The Chamber concluded many of the aforementioned concerns to cause direct negative effects on the business community. Due to this conclusion, The Chamber Board took a stance to oppose Measure 1 and encourages its members and North Dakota citizens to oppose Measure 1, which would institute numerous provisions in relation to ethics and transparency causing various unintended consequences.
About The Chamber
The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce is a bi-state, regional federation of more than 2,100 private, public and non-profit member firms representing more than 109,000 people. The largest local chamber in North Dakota and Minnesota, The Chamber advocates for a strong metropolitan community and supports the interests of its members, which are located in Cass and Clay Counties and beyond.