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Warrant alleges petitioners got illegal bonuses in push for North Dakota term limits

Charles Tuttle, who oversaw the collection of signatures for the ND Term Limits Initiative, claims the investigation is a smear campaign. But petition circulators said they received between $50 and $100 bonuses for every 100 signatures they collected, according to a search warrant.

Charles Tuttle.
Charles Tuttle, seen in this 2018 photo, oversaw the collection of signatures for the ND Term Limits Initiative.
Forum News Service file photo
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FARGO — A search warrant alleges that workers who gathered signatures for a North Dakota term-limit petition were illegally paid $50 or $100 bonuses for every 100 signatures they obtained.

Investigators executed the search warrant Monday, Aug. 15, at the Minot home of Charles Tuttle, who helped collect signatures for the failed term-limit petition.

The warrant, made public on Tuesday in Ward County District Court, gives details on why the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation searched Tuttle’s home.

Tuttle, a past candidate for state and federal offices, is named in the warrant as the person who oversaw the collection of signatures for the ND Term Limits Initiative. US Term Limits, a national organization based in Washington, D.C., contracted Tuttle to head the effort, the warrant said.

The North Dakota group wanted voters to decide whether an eight-year cap should be put on governors and state legislators in their respective chambers. Tuttle and another person were paid $25,000 to circulate the signatures, with the goal of hitting 6,000 signatures, according to the warrant.

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Tuttle, who posted a Facebook video of the warrant being served to him, told The Forum that the $25,000 was used to cover expenses. (Paying workers an hourly wage to gather signatures is legal, but paying bonuses is illegal.)

“I don’t break laws,” he said. “We didn’t pay bonuses to anybody.”

The initiative turned in roughly 46,000 signatures in an attempt to get the petition on the November ballot, but Secretary of State Al Jaeger disqualified the proposed measure. Jaeger declared about 29,000 signatures did not meet legal standards, so the threshold of 31,164 signatures was not met.

Jaeger also alleged some petition gatherers were paid bonuses for collecting signatures, which is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by almost a year in jail. The case was handed over to the BCI for investigation.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley announced last month that he sent the case to the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office for potential charges, though it was unclear at the time who could face charges.

No charges were filed against anyone as of Tuesday afternoon. ND Term Limits has sued Jaeger over the rejection of the signatures.

The warrant was prompted by a recording that stated petition circulators received bonuses based on the number of signatures they collected at the North Dakota State Fair, according to the warrant. BCI agents contacted some of those signature collectors and spoke with Tuttle, court documents said.

Tuttle told investigators that signature gatherers were paid $15 an hour, but others who helped collect signatures said they were paid $50 to $100 for each time they got 100 signatures, according to the warrant. One person said they were paid $50 for every 50 signatures, the warrant said.

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Those payments were documented on time sheets, the warrant said. BCI agents seized 15 time cards from Tuttle's home.

One person said they were not paid, but they didn’t mind because they lived with Tuttle for free, the warrant said.

At least one person said some people were not hitting the bonuses because Tuttle teamed them up with other circulators, according to court documents. That caused a “battle for the clipboard and a hostile work environment," the warrant said.

Tuttle told The Forum that petition circulators were paid on a tiered system, meaning they got a bump in hourly pay if they collected more signatures.

The warrant also suggested signature gatherers got paid different hourly wages, which ranged from $10 to $15 an hour.

Tuttle said he plans to submit signatures this week that would put him on the ballot to run for secretary of state. As an independent conservative, he would face Republican Michael Howe and Democrat Jeffrey Powell.

Jaeger has decided not to seek reelection.

Tuttle called the investigation into the term-limits initiative a smear campaign meant to intimidate him to stop him from running for office.

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“They’re not going to scare me,” he told The Forum. “We’re talking about a misdemeanor. … How much money are we going to spend on a misdemeanor?”

He said he planned to take any potential charges against him to trial.

“They don’t want to open this can of worms up. They really don’t, but they are going to,” Tuttle said.

Wrigley declined to comment on the search warrant and Tuttle’s claims that the investigation was a smear campaign.

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April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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