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$1.6M of California billionaire’s money spent so far on Marsy’s Law measures in N.D., S.D., Mont.

BISMARCK - Marsy's Law supporters have spent nearly $1.6 million of California tech billionaire Henry Nicholas' money so far on ballot measures in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana as part of his self-funded effort to put expanded rights for...

BISMARCK – Marsy's Law supporters have spent nearly $1.6 million of California tech billionaire Henry Nicholas' money so far on ballot measures in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana as part of his self-funded effort to put expanded rights for crime victims into state constitutions, officials said Wednesday.

Still, the high-profile political consultant serving as spokeswoman for the national Marsy’s Law for All effort, said the North Dakota measure “is coming from the state itself.” Sponsors submitted more than 44,000 signatures Tuesday with hopes of getting the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“You can’t have one person come into the state and say, ‘I want to change the constitution.’ It has to come from the people of the state,” said Boston-based Gail Gitcho of McKay-Gitcho Strategies.

In North Dakota, it began with Kathleen Wrigley, wife of Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and now chair of the measure’s 29-member sponsoring committee. Gitcho said national organizers did “assessments” in spring 2015 on the 18 states without constitutional protections for victims’ rights and quickly heard that Wrigley had a personal connection: her brother, a Philadelphia police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1991.

Gitcho, who served as press secretary for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, said she also visited the state to find a local consulting firm to assist the effort, asking for proposals and interviewing half a dozen firms before narrowing it down to Bismarck-based Odney.

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To date, supporters have spent $404,569 on the North Dakota effort, $625,568 in Montana and $567,548 in South Dakota, according to figures from Odney.

More than half of the money spent by North Dakota organizers, $218,750, went to paid petition circulators Advanced Micro Targeting.

Odney has received more than $43,000 for its services so far, according to sponsors’ year-end campaign finance report and figures provided by the company that will be listed on the next report due Friday. Consulting firms in California and Las Vegas are among the other major recipients so far.

Besides Odney, the only paid staffer in North Dakota for Marsy’s Law is state director Marsha Lembke of Bismarck, who has received $16,900. Kathleen Wrigley is strictly a volunteer and is not being paid, said Amanda Godfread, Odney’s director of strategic engagement.

Marsy’s Law initiated measures already have spots reserved on the November ballots in Montana and South Dakota. Secretary of State Al Jaeger has until June 14 to verify at least 26,904 signatures for the North Dakota measure to get on the ballot.

Gitcho said national organizers are mulling their next moves in Georgia, Kentucky and Hawaii after lawmakers in those states opted not to put the measure on the ballot this year. Nevada’s biennial Legislature gave initial approval last year and will consider final approval for the ballot next year.

The sole funder in all of the states is Nicholas, who co-founded the semiconductor business Broadcom Corp., which announced last year it was being acquired by Avago Technologies for $37 billion in cash and stock. Marsy’s Law is named for his sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

Nicholas has donated more than $1 million to the North Dakota effort, according to Odney. Gitcho said she wasn’t ready to disclose how much he’s contributed in other states but said it’s “a multimillion-dollar effort.”

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She downplayed criticism from detractors that Nicholas alone is driving the issue.

“It’s such a no-brainer issue that crime victims deserve equal rights, it’s really hard to find people who say otherwise,” she said.

But Bismarck attorney Justin Vinje, the immediate past president of the North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which along with the State’s Attorney’s Association is opposing the measure as unnecessary and burdensome, likened it to the sale of a used car.

“It looks really nice on the outside, but once you open the hood and look at it, you see that you’re not getting what you’re paying for,” he said, adding the Legislature is the appropriate place to address the issue.

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