Forum Editorial: This bill would gut ethics commission and pervert the will of voters

2687287+ND capitol dark (1).jpg

North Dakota citizens beware: Legislative leaders are taking steps to gut the constitutional amendment that voters approved in the November election to establish an ethics commission. Legislation to implement the measure makes a mockery of what voters intended.

House Bill 1521, introduced by Rep. Chet Pollert, R-New Rockford, the House majority leader, and Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate majority leader, is a maneuver that would severely weaken safeguards intended to keep corruption out of state government.

Candidly, we didn’t support the ethics measure because of certain flaws. But the voters have spoken, and this legislation is a perversion of the will of voters. It’s also part of a troubling pattern, evident with the legislature’s aggressive reworking of the medical marijuana measure, of legislative contempt for voters’ wishes.

In a gift to influence peddlers, the ethics implementation bill defines “influence state government action” narrowly to mean “promoting or opposing the final adoption of a rule by an administrative agency or the commission.

Got that? It applies specifically to attempts to promote or oppose “the final adoption of a rule,” leaving uncovered the rest of the policy-making process.


Under the section dealing with financial disclosure requirements, the bill does not require reporting a gift to or from a family member — the “all in the family” provision.

It also exempts reporting requirements for reimbursement for “travel, meal and refreshment expenses” for attending a conference, seminar or “other legitimate educational opportunity” as long as they involve “issues germane to the official duties of the public official” — an exception so generous that it should be called the “junket preservation provision.”

We know how much legislators love to be wined and dined by lobbyists. That won’t be a problem. Meals and refreshments provided while “informing, advising or educating a public official” — in other words, lobbying — are exempted from reporting.

How about favors for public officials? Not a problem. A “good or service determined not to raise ethical concerns” can go unreported.

See a pattern here?

If passed, this bill would keep hidden from the public the favors doled out in darkness that influence laws and policies. It would allow business as usual.

Mr. Smith, the James Stewart reformer in the classic movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” needs to go to Bismarck.

Instead, we have Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, who has been named chairman of the House Ethics Committee. He’s famous for taking trips sponsored by the internet gambling industry to places like Montreal, Antigua, and Costa Rica to talk about friendly legislation he tried to pass.


Also named to the House Ethics Committee are a couple of members, Rep. Kim Koppelman, West Fargo, and Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, who are behind legislation to allow legislators to override voter-passed constitutional amendments.

Don’t forget that Measure 1, which established the ethics commission and transparency requirements, was a constitutional amendment.

See a pattern here?

Who do Pollert and Wardner think they’re fooling? This legislation is so blatant that its architects must assume that a complacent citizenry will shrug and let this outrage pass without a whimper of protest.

Don’t let that happen, voters. Tell your legislators that you want ethical state government, with real reporting requirements to ensure transparency, and no more special favors for legislators and public officials.

And if they ignore you, vote accordingly.

What To Read Next
Get Local