FARGO – Voters may have approved North Dakota’s Measure 1 aimed at combating corruption but the group behind it has no plans to break up anytime soon.
“There's a lot of work to do both this legislative session and going forward into the future,” Ellen Chaffee, one of the founders of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, said Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.
Being a constitutional amendment, the measure relies on lawmakers to implement it, which creates opportunities for Measure 1’s supporters and opponents to influence that process.
Chaffee said her group will also stay together - it’s incorporated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit group - because it’s anticipating legal challenges by opponents.
Measure 1 passed with 54 percent of 314,949 votes cast. The strongest support came from Red River Valley counties, some Indian reservations and two counties in the heart of the Oil Patch.
Passage means that, among other things, the “ultimate and true source” of money spent on media to influence politics must be disclosed, lobbyists must no longer give gifts to public officials and an ethics commission must be formed to investigate violations.
Geoff Simon, executive director of North Dakotans for Sound Government, said his opposition group likely will break up now that the election is over, but he thinks former members will continue to work together.
He said he expects many will watch and see what lawmakers do, but it seems like a lawsuit is inevitable.
One group that’s already talking about a lawsuit is the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, which opposed Measure 1 because it believes the disclosure requirements would excessively restrict free speech. Spokeswoman Janna Farley confirmed that such talks exist but declined to offer more details.Not partisan
Measure 1 was, by and large, not a partisan issue.
The people who wrote the measure came from both parties. Chaffee, a former president of Mayville State and Valley City State universities, once ran for lieutenant governor as a Democrat. Dina Butcher, North Dakotans for Public Integrity’s president, served in former Republican Gov. Ed Schafer's administration.
Opposing them was a mixed group of business interests, local governments, the ACLU and the North Dakota Catholic Conference.
In a state that overwhelmingly favored Republican candidates, Measure 1 managed a majority, though some of the strongest support came from more Democratic areas.
In Cass County, where 58 percent of the vote went to Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat with the highest profile this election, Measure 1 received 65 percent. In Grand Forks County, where 53 percent went to Heitkamp, the measure garnered 60 percent.
But the measure had support even in deep red counties.
In Williams County, where 73 percent went to Heitkamp’s opponent Kevin Cramer, Measure 1 got 54 percent. In McKenzie County, where 72 percent went to Cramer, the measure earned 51 percent.
Butcher said Measure 1 had to be bipartisan, “otherwise it wouldn’t have won.”
The strong support in the east might have something to do with the naturally skeptical view of state government of those living farther from the capital, she said. The support of Williams and McKenzie counties, in the heart of oil country, might be a reaction to the dominance of the oil industry in influencing politics, she said.
Oil companies were among those opposed to Measure 1 but so was the Western Dakota Energy Association, which represents cities, counties and school districts in the Oil Patch. Simon is the association’s lobbyist.Lawsuits ahead
The feature that made the measure popular with voters appears to be the same ones that’s made it enemies.
Kathy Tweeten, a founding member of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, said voters she’s met were enthused about the disclosure requirement. “Dark money is pretty scary stuff and they want to know where it’s coming from and where it's being spent,” she said.
North Dakota laws already require some disclosures but not all.
Critics charged Measure 1’s legal language is so vague that it could far exceed what measure supporters intended.
The ACLU said it feared that a private citizen driving to Bismarck to meet with lawmakers would have to keep track of how much money was spent on gas and meals during the trip.
Farley, the group’s spokeswoman, confirmed that talk of litigation was focused on this aspect of the measure.
Business interests, including the state Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Church, expressed concern that the “ultimate and true source” requirement would force them to turn over names of clients or church members.
Simon said this loss or privacy would intimidate people into staying out of politics, especially where hot-button social issues are concerned.
Tweeten said she was gratified voters weren’t “duped” by these “bogus claims.”
“This reinforces what I believe about North Dakotans - their common sense,” Butcher said. “They read the measure and got what we were trying to do, which was to make sure that all North Dakotans know what’s going on when they send their elected officials to Bismarck.”
Still, winning at the ballot box is no protection from losing in court. Measure 1 supporters appeared keenly aware of the latter possibility. Their amendment specified that if any of its provisions are invalidated, the rest will not be affected.
Simon said with the disclosure requirement lawmakers will either go too far for some or not far enough for others, opening the state up to a lawsuit. “I’d be surprised if there isn’t litigation,” he said.
Lawmakers will have three years to pass legislation required by Measure 1.