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N.D. House rejects bill prohibiting personal use of campaign funds

BISMARCK - House Republicans rejected a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would have prohibited North Dakota candidates from using campaign contributions for personal use.

BISMARCK – House Republicans rejected a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would have prohibited North Dakota candidates from using campaign contributions for personal use.

The bill failed 26-65 largely along party lines, with only three Republicans voting in favor of it during an evening floor session.

Rep. Corey Mock, a Democrat from Grand Forks and the House assistant minority leader, spoke in favor of House Bill 1253, saying when he first ran for office, he always asked candidates what they did with leftover campaign funds.

“One of the most fascinating answers I received was, ‘Well, put it in your checking account, it’s yours,’ ” he said. “That’s income, and without law that explicitly prohibits the use of campaign contributions for personal use, in an essence, that is non-taxed personal income.”

The bill would have barred a candidate, their committee or a multicandidate political committee from using campaign contributions to give a personal benefit to the candidate or another person.

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Mock noted that while campaign contributions of $200 or less are tracked for statewide candidates, they aren’t for legislative candidates. He said while he trusts that legislators and candidates wouldn’t violate the law’s intent and use contributions for personal use, it provides “a very challenging question.”

“What do we have in law to ensure that this is not happening? Because we’ve seen it in other states, it’s risen, and there’s certainly no way of knowing if it isn’t happening in North Dakota,” he said.

Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, carried the bill for the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, which gave it a 10-4 do-not-pass recommendation.

“The committee felt that there have not been any problems with the current system,” he said. “This bill was not necessary.”

Rep. Jim Kasper also opposed the bill, saying that since he joined the House in 2001, he’s never heard colleagues from either party discuss having used campaign contributions for personal use.

“And I don’t suspect anybody would,” said Kasper, R-Fargo. “I think we have enough reporting.”

The bill was sponsored by Reps. Ben Hanson, D-West Fargo, Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, and Mary Johnson, R-Fargo, and Sens. Joe Miller, R-Park River, and Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks.

Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were Beadle and Reps. Christopher Olson, R-West Fargo, and Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo. Johnson, despite co-sponsoring the bill, voted against it. Three GOP members were absent or not voting.

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The House also defeated two related bills Tuesday:

--  House Bill 1289 would have added campaign reporting requirements for legislative candidates, mandating that they report the gross totals of all contributions in excess of $200 and those of $200 or less, as well as cash on hand at the start and close of the reporting period. The bill, sponsored by three Democrats, failed 25-66.

-- House Bill 1290 would have required legislative candidates to report the aggregated total of all campaign expenditures in excess of $200 made to any person, including the name, address, date and purpose for the expenses. Sponsored by four Democrats, the bill failed 23-67.

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