Paid petition circulators drive some measures
BISMARCK (AP) -- In their efforts to get on the November ballot, those shepherding some of North Dakota's new crop of voter initiatives relied on paid petition carriers, most notably a proposal to reserve a share of the state's oil tax revenue for wildlife, parks and wetlands projects.
Supporters of the conservation initiative paid an Iowa consulting firm $145,000 to run their signature-gathering effort. Advocates of a medical marijuana initiative paid $45,000 to hire workers to solicit petition signatures.
North Dakota initiative and referendum campaigns have traditionally relied on volunteers, and state law bars linking payments to circulators to the number of signatures they gather. But the use of paid circulators has risen in recent years, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.
"I was a little surprised" at the money spent to gather signatures for the conservation fund, Jaeger said Tuesday. The move, he said, "hasn't been a common practice."
The proposed conservation fund, which would put an appointed board in charge of a fund that could collect $80 million to $100 million annually in oil taxes, is backed by a number of environmental and conservation groups. The initiative's chairman, Stephen Adair, is director of the Bismarck regional office of Ducks Unlimited, a national conservation group. The campaign's treasurer is a Ducks Unlimited administrator.
A coalition of groups is being assembled to fight the proposal, including the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and organizations that represent farming and ranching interests.
Andy Peterson, president of the Chamber of Commerce, argues the initiative would provide money for projects with no independent oversight, and would take funding from education, human services, flood protection and road construction.
Jon Godfread, chamber vice president, said Tuesday he expects backers of the conservation measure to spend as much as $2 million.
The $145,000 expenditure "was an eye-opening thing for us," but made sense given the amount of money at stake, Godfread said.