MINOT, N.D.-Last month I wrote in this column that Measure 1, the so-called "anti-corruption" amendment put on the November ballot thanks to professional petitioners paid mostly by a group of Hollywood celebrities, was an affront to the First Amendment.
The left-wing supporters of the measure scoffed when I made that argument. I saw feedback to it suggesting I was exaggerating or even outright fabricating my claims-that I was merely serving as the lackey for deep-pocketed interests interested in defeating the proposal.
"You will note that it contains no exception to this reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their personal point of view on a given campaign or piece of public policy," I wrote in that column. "Thus we are left with a constitutional mandate so absurdly broad that a citizen spending their own money on fuel and meals and lodging while traveling Bismarck to testify on a bill would have to disclose their spending to the government if the spending is over $200."
I also pointed out the measure had no exemptions for the news media. "Talk radio hosts like me, newspaper columnists like me, bloggers like me, would probably be subject to the regulations implemented by this measure because we spend our days influencing politics and policy with analysis, opinion and original reporting."
Again, the measure's supporters reacted to this as though it were outright fabulism.
Problem is, the ACLU is making the same argument.
"There is no exception to this reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their personal point of view on a given campaign or piece of public policy," the group's North Dakota chapter said in a news release this week announcing their opposition to the measure.
"That leaves a constitutional mandate so broad that if a private citizen wants to travel to Bismarck to testify on a bill, they'd have to disclose any money spent on fuel, meals and lodging over $200," the continued. "There's also no exemption for the media. Talk-radio hosts, newspaper columnists or bloggers who influence politics and policy with their reporting and analysis would likely be subject to these regulations, too."
In other words, as a practical matter, isn't so much about government transparency and accountability as shutting people up.
I'll leave it to you, the readers, to decide if the Hollywood organizers of this measure, along with their local lackeys, intended that outcome or not.
Either way, no voter who values robust and uninhibited political speech should be a supporter of Measure 1.
Not only is it ill-considered public policy, of potentially malevolent genesis, but it would likely invite lengthy and costly litigation from those rightly defending their speech rights.
There are improvements we can make to reporting requirements and other transparency initiatives in state government, but Measure 1 would make things worse not better.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.