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Port: The Bastiat Caucus is floating a bogus legal argument against Burgum's political spending

These supposed liberty lovers will argue that the state constitution makes Burgum's political engagement illegal.

burgum_budget.jpg
Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to state agency leaders about budget requests at the North Dakota Capitol on May 5, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — The Bastiat Caucus side of the split in the North Dakota Republican Party is not going to have a good day on June 14.

That's the day of the primary election when an unusually high number of disputed Republican legislative nominations will be settled.

The Bastiats have had a rough time of it this year.

Their founder, outgoing state Rep. Rick Becker, saw his U.S. Senate campaign belly flop after garnering lackluster support .

Their efforts to install their people as leaders in legislative districts across the state was a wash .

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Their candidate for state party chair was not only defeated in a landslide but has more recently pleaded guilty to felony DUI charges .

A term limits ballot measure they backed — the committee is charged by Bastiat organizer Jared Hendrix and sponsored by Bastiat lawmakers such as Becker — was kept off the ballot because of alleged fraud that is still under investigation by the Attorney General's Office.

Meanwhile, their legislative candidates are far behind the traditional Republicans they're challenging in terms of fundraising, and that's before we consider the money Gov. Doug Burgum is spending independently to defeat the Bastiats.

So, it's desperation time for the Bastiats, and their "Hail Mary" is a bogus claim that somehow North Dakota's state constitution makes it illegal for Burgum to spend money promoting his political message.

The Bastiats are organizing a rally in Bismarck today, May 26, to make this argument, and it's endorsed by former Bastiat lawmaker Luke Simons (he was expelled last year, in a historic vote , amid accusations of sexual harassment) who has recently expressed his opinion that the Uvalde, Texas, shooting was a political stunt perpetrated to influence the midterm elections .

So, you know, a super credible guy.

The Bastiat crowd, populated as it is by cretins such as Simons, just isn't very credible. But the source of a claim isn't necessarily proof that the claim is false.

Even stopped clocks are right twice a day.

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So, let's examine the argument they're making. They're referencing Article V, Section 10, of the state constitution. Here's what that section of the law says:

Artivle V, Section 10, of the North Dakota Constitution
Artivle V, Section 10, of the North Dakota Constitution<br/>
Screenshot

That can be a little hard to follow, so here's a summary of what's being prohibited:

  • The governor cannot accept bribes.
  • The governor can't promise to use their official powers to influence a lawmaker's vote.
  • The governor can't use the threat of their veto power to influence lawmakers.
  • The governor can't use the promise of an appointment to influence lawmakers.
  • The governor can't threaten to remove someone from office to influence lawmakers.

Now let's contrast that with what Burgum is doing in the legislative primaries, which is donating some of his personal wealth to an independent committee created by his people to spend money on political messaging supporting his preferred candidates.

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That is not something prohibited by Article V, Section 10. If it were prohibited, that section of our state constitution would be challenged and struck down as a violation of our national constitution.

For all the blather we hear from the Bastiat crowd about their supposed commitment to liberty, they seem to forget that the concept doesn't just apply to them.

Gov. Burgum did not lose his First Amendment rights when he was elected. He has the same right as the rest of us to spend his money to promote (or oppose) whatever political cause he'd like.

These liberty lovers think they can use the law to shut him up, and that's appalling.

(As an aside, I've always thought the prohibition on the governor threatening vetoes is also problematic from a First Amendment perspective. The governor can't say "I will veto that bill if it reaches my desk"? C'mon. The governor has veto power. He or she should be allowed to talk about using it.)

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There are criticisms to be made of what Burgum is doing. His aggressiveness can be counterproductive for the candidates he's trying to support. Also, this spending isn't very transparent, and that's something the Legislature ought to fix, as I've argued previously .

It also bothers me that the governor, or at least his people, aren't out in front of the public making the affirmative argument for what they're doing . If you're going to spend millions supporting or opposing a slate of candidates — and Burgum has, between this cycle and last — then why not have enough respect for voters to talk to them about what you're doing?

But those criticisms aside, there's not a single thing illegal about what Burgum is doing, and nor should there be.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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