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Religion measure attracts big money

BISMARCK -- Planned Parenthood is the biggest backer of a campaign against Measure 3, contributing to a financial advantage of more than half a million dollars over the religious measure's supporters.

Nearly $1 million in campaign contributions has gone into the debate over whether North Dakota's Constitution needs a religious liberty restoration amendment, according to campaign finance reports frequently updated to reflect additional money on both sides.

As of Tuesday, North Dakotans Against Measure 3 received nearly $700,000 worth of contributions. Planned Parenthood contributed about $650,000 worth of support. Reports indicate $380,400 of that was through in-kind donations.

The Planned Parenthood contributions come from across the country, but about $610,400 is from Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota based in St. Paul, Minn.

In comparison, the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment Committee raised $103,200 this year to support the measure. The Catholic Diocese of Fargo gave $20,666, while the Catholic Diocese of Bismarck and North Dakota Catholic Conference each gave $10,666.

A $20,000 contribution came from Colorado-based Citizen Link, described on its website as "a family advocacy organization that inspires men and women to live out biblical citizenship that transforms culture."

Most of the financing to support Measure 3 comes from within the state, said Tom Freier of the North Dakota Family Alliance, which gave $10,000 in May.

"No matter how many hundreds of thousands of dollars out-of-state organizations like Planned Parenthood would attempt to interject, I'm very hopeful North Dakotans will not be bought," Freier said.

Tom Fiebiger, a Fargo-based civil rights attorney and chairman of North Dakotans Against Measure 3, said it isn't accurate to say out-of-state money is trying to buy the election.

"I think that's sort of a simplistic way to make a complicated issue simple and to say, 'So, you should vote for it because of that,'" Fiebiger said. "I think it just shows how much is at stake and that's why there's this investment."

Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota is a North Dakota organization and one of many concerned about the measure, spokeswoman Jen Aulwes said. In-kind contributions include staff time from Planned Parenthood affiliates concerned about the precedent Measure 3 sets, she said.

"We're particularly concerned that it could affect any number of laws, including laws meant to protect civil rights, laws against discrimination and abuse, health care laws," she said.

Planned Parenthood was approached by a number of organizations and individuals to get involved because it has experience with ballot measures in other states, she said.

"All of the individuals and organizations who have spoken out on behalf of the 'No on Measure 3' campaign are North Dakotans who are simply concerned about the dangers that Measure 3 poses," Aulwes said. "All of them are folks who understand the importance of religious liberty and understand that it's already protected by the U.S. Constitution."

Planned Parenthood and its allies apparently feel Measure 3 stands in the way of its agenda in North Dakota, said Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

"I think it's unfortunate Planned Parenthood and its affiliates around the country are sinking money into North Dakota to try to stop religious freedom for North Dakotans," he said.

North Dakotans will vote on the measure Tuesday.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.