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Companies may face reporting mandate on measures

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Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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BISMARCK -- Corporations and other businesses whose employees are assigned to work for or against initiated measures in North Dakota may have to report the labor costs as in-kind political contributions, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.

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Stenehjem issued the opinion for Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, and Rep. Lisa Wolf, D-Minot, who had raised questions about corporate expenditures for or against measures.

They wondered if indirect spending for or against measures has to be reported just as direct spending would have to be.

"You ask whether corporate labor costs allocable to a corporation's promotion of passage or defeat ... constitute an expenditure or contribution ... triggering a requirement to file a statement with the secretary of state," Stenehjem wrote.

"It is my opinion that corporate labor costs of more than a nominal value that are directly allocable to a corporation's promotion of passage or defeat (does) constitute an expenditure or contribution ... and trigger a requirement to file a statement with the secretary of state."

Under state campaign disclosure laws passed in 2003, the words "expenditure" and "contribution" are broadly defined and include "anything of value" used to aid or opposes passage of a statewide petition or measure.

The law addressing corporations refers not just to corporations but also "any cooperative corporation, limited liability company or association" and says all will have to file a report with the secretary of state if they receive money or spend money for or against measures "listing the total amount of money spent for that purpose."

Neither Bakke nor Wolf could be reached Wednesday for comment on the opinion, on why they requested it or whether they had a particular measure in mind when they sought the opinion.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office is in the process of examining petitions containing more than 15,000 names on a measure that would cut the state income tax in half for individuals and by 15 percent for corporations. If at least 12,844 names are valid, the measure will be on the November ballot.

In addition, the Legislature put Measure 1 on the ballot, which would most of the dollars in the state's Permanent Oil Tax Trust Fund off limits to legislators' spending.

And, seven other initiated measures are currently in circulation and could qualify for the November ballot. Among other things, they call for revamping of the state workers' compensation agency, mandate spending on anti-tobacco measures and restrict state and local government spending.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.

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