Port: Remember when North Dakota's 'ultra-conservatives' were actually in favor of protecting free speech?

In 2015, Rep. Rick Becker, the founder of the Bastiat Caucus, voted to protect political spending as free speech, a position his criticism of Gov. Doug Burgum's spending on legislative races is at odds with.

Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, holds up an attack ad paid for by Brighter Future Alliance at a press conference in the North Dakota Capitol on Thursday, May 26, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — There is much ado in North Dakota politics this year about political spending, and much of the ado is coming from people who are people complete hypocrites about it.

Last week, before the holiday, a group of Bastiat Caucus lawmakers gathered in the state capitol building in Bismarck, in the hall just outside Gov. Doug Burgum's office, and threw a hissy fit about political spending Burgum is doing on legislative races across the state.

Burgum has been pouring big money into a political action committee that, in turn, is spending that money to support Burgum's preferred candidates in legislative primaries.

For this, Rep. Rick Becker called Burgum a "mafia boss."

Rep. Jeff Magrum called him a "tyrant."


(As an aside, and as I noted last week, Burgum's messaging has been positive so far . Another group, the Brighter Future Alliance, has been running negative messaging, but that group isn't affiliated with Burgum, a point seemingly lost on Rep. Magrum, as you can see in the picture above.)

Back in 2015, when Democrats were pushing a resolution, HCR 3030 , in the state Legislature seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning U.S. Supreme Court rulings finding that political spending is protected free speech, Becker voted against it.

As did every other Republican member of the state House .

HCR 3030 from North Dakota's 2015 legislative session
The recorded roll call vote for House Concurrent Resolution 3030 from the 2015 session of the North Dakota Legislature.

Magrum and two other Republican lawmakers who were at last week's news conference, Rep. Jeff Hoverson and Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, weren't in the Legislature in 2015 when this vote happened.

But Becker was. He's the founder of the Bastiat Caucus, a dissident group of North Dakota Republicans who pride themselves on supposedly being "ultra-conservative."

Becker voted in 2015 to protect political spending as free speech, which was the correct vote from the pro-liberty point of view, which makes Becker's opposition to that sort of thing today, in 2022, all the more ironic.

His hatred for Burgum has grown so deep, his principles now take a back seat to political expediency.

The irony doesn't stop there.


Anyone who watched Becker's unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign earlier this year is familiar with his obsession with his ranking from the American Conservative Union . That organization tracks how lawmakers vote on key pieces of legislation, then ranks them from most conservative to least.

Becker routinely came out on top of that ranking, and he's very vain about it. I'm not sure he delivered a political speech during his Senate campaign without mentioning it.

Well, the ACU scored the 2015 vote on HCR 3030 .

It was a part of Becker's ranking.

But his position today seems to be the Democratic position, which is that political spending isn't protected free speech.

What Becker and his cronies sell the public is this idea of themselves as these perfect paragons of conservative principles. They're loyal to their ideology, they tell us endlessly, which makes them distinct from all the other politicians who are in the thrall of special interests, yada, yada, yada.

The truth is, they're not that different. Like so many others in the political class, they'll abandon whatever principles are in the way of pandering to the audience in front of them at the moment.

A principled person would recognize that, whatever you think of his arguments and motivations, Gov. Doug Burgum didn't lose his First Amendment rights when elected to office.


If only Becker and his crew had that kind of principle.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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