BISMARCK – The California billionaire bankrolling a North Dakota ballot measure aimed at expanding crime victims’ rights and adding them to the state constitution has contributed nearly $2.5 million to the effort, an amount the measure’s lead opponent predicts will turn off voters.
Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Nicholas contributed nearly $489,000 last year to the initiated measure’s sponsoring committee and gave the Marsy’s Law for North Dakota ballot measure committee $630,697 from Jan. 1 through May 5, campaign finance statements show.
Since then, he’s contributed an additional $1.37 million through Sept. 29, according to the committee’s pre-general statement filed Friday.
The committee has spent nearly $1.4 million on advertising and other expenses, with $605,650 in cash on hand heading into the final month before the Nov. 8 election, the statement shows.
By comparison, the “No On 3” opposition committee has raised just $10,000 since officially forming less than three weeks ago.
Opposition committee chairman Robert Wefald, a former North Dakota attorney general and district judge, criticized the “enormous” contributions from Nicholas and said voters are “too smart” to be swayed by proponents’ extensive ad campaign.
“He’s trying to buy a constitutional amendment to put his sister’s nickname in our constitution, and it won’t work. North Dakotans do not want their constitution manipulated by out-of-state money,” Wefald said.
Marsy’s Law for North Dakota spokeswoman Lacee Anderson said the name “Marsy” wouldn’t actually be in the constitution, and that Nicholas is solely funding the effort because he wants local money to go to local victims’ groups.
“We feel like the opposition is deflecting from the problem, which is example after example of victims who come forward” to say the measure is needed, she said.
Nicholas also is funding efforts to spread the law to other states, including South Dakota and Montana, where similar measures are on the ballot in November.
Marsy’s Law is named for his sister, Marsalee Nicholas, a California college student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. California voters passed the original Marsy’s Law in 2008, and Illinois voters approved a version of it in 2012.
The North Dakota measure would expand victims’ rights as listed in current state law and cement them in the state constitution, including the rights to be free from intimidation, to be heard in court proceedings and to be promptly notified when a defendant is released or escapes from custody.
The measure faces considerable opposition from the legal community and victims’ groups who say it’s unnecessary because a notification system is already in place and any proposed changes should go through the Legislature. Opponents include the North Dakota Victim Assistance Association, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and State’s Attorneys’ Association.
The North Dakota Sheriff’s & Deputies Association has endorsed the measure.
Anderson said the current notification system isn’t being used as it should and the measure is necessary to put victims and offenders on equal legal footing. She said two TV commercials and three radio spots will continue to air until the election, and measure supporters will continue to meet with groups across the state.
A fiscal note released last week, based on estimates from county governments, state agencies, the Supreme Court and other groups, estimates Marsy’s Law would cost more than $1.1 million for the last seven months of the 2015-17 biennium and nearly $4 million for the entire 2017-19 biennium. Anderson said the fiscal note is too high and wrongly assumes all crime victims will opt for notification services.