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Port: North Dakota 'ethics' activists are out to shut you up

The partisans behind this amendment have launched a political attack on the ethics commission they helped create because the people staffing it have been reticent to side with their interpretation of the amendment. An unconstitutional interpretation because, remember, your campaign contributions have the same protections as your political speech.

Ethics Commission director David Thiele speaks before members of the House Judiciary Committee on the second day of the 2021 legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 6. Adam Willis / The Forum
Ethics Commission director David Thiele speaks before members of the House Judiciary Committee on the second day of the 2021 legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 6.
Adam Willis / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — When Democrats lose, they don't spend a lot of time thinking about their policy platforms or their messaging or their candidates. Instead, they try to change the rules.

When a Republican wins the White House, Democrats push to abolish the Electoral College. When conservatives are appointed to the Supreme Court, they start talking about court-packing schemes. If they can't get a small amount of bipartisan consensus around a piece of legislation, they take aim at the filibuster.

(Republicans don't have clean hands either, as evidenced by Trump World's efforts to overturn the 2020 election with violence and power grabs, but that's a topic for another column.)

Locally, that sore-loser attitude has manifested itself in a hyperpartisan group calling itself North Dakotans for Public Integrity which is funded largely by national left-wing groups and staffed locally by left-wing activists. Billing themselves as nonpartisan, a lie most of our state's journalists haven't bothered to explore, they successfully leveraged North Dakota's very stupid initiated measure process to create an ethics amendment to the state constitution.

Because it was enacted at the ballot box, amid a big-money marketing campaign paid for by out-of-state millions, by voters who, for the most part, didn't bother to read it, the ideological implications of this amendment are just now becoming clear.

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Thanks to this amendment, Article XIV of North Dakota's state constitution now reads, in part: "Directors, officers, commissioners, heads, or other executives of agencies shall avoid the appearance of bias, and shall disqualify themselves in any quasi-judicial proceeding in which monetary or in-kind support related to the person’s election to any office, or a financial interest not shared by the general public as defined by the ethics commission, creates an appearance of bias to a reasonable person."

A passage that sounds nice - who is against ethics? - but as interpreted by these activists makes the free exercise of democracy illegal.

Currently, it works this way: A candidate declares for a public office. They receive support from people, and groups of people, typically in the form of monetary contributions. The candidate who gets the most votes gets to hold the office.

This is how it would work under a strict reading of the ethics amendment: Candidates announce, but they can't receive support from the very groups they govern.

If you're a farmer, can you contribute to your preferred candidate for Agriculture Commissioner? Can teachers support a Superintendent candidate? Can any business person contribute to the governor, given the wide-ranging policies enacted through that office?

The partisans behind this amendment have launched a political attack on the ethics commission they helped create because the people staffing it have been reticent to side with their interpretation of the amendment. An unconstitutional interpretation because, remember, your campaign contributions have the same protections as your political speech.

What these partisan activists are trying to do is shut people up.

They must be resisted.

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To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

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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