Janell Cole column: Bank law referral confirms bankers were without a clue
Last week saw Measure 2 and its supporters suffer the worst drubbing of any referred law since 1989, the year North Dakota voters gave the boot to eight bills passed by the Legislature. The 73 percent repudiation of a too-intrusive financial priv...
Last week saw Measure 2 and its supporters suffer the worst drubbing of any referred law since 1989, the year North Dakota voters gave the boot to eight bills passed by the Legislature. The 73 percent repudiation of a too-intrusive financial privacy law was the second biggest margin of the 12 successful referrals since 1980. The grand champion is still the 88 percent who rejected a legislators' retirement plan in 1989.
For all their campaign cash, hired help and advertising, supporters of the law didn't have much to work with, never seemed to realize it, and misjudged the public at every step. All along, efforts by bankers, credit unions, legislators and the governor to pass and keep Senate Bill 2191 signaled to voters that the "yes" forces didn't get it.
First there was the bill itself. The Legislature, as was done in a few other states, could have overhauled banking laws to match Congress' Gramm-Leach-Bliley act without ditching North Dakota's status as an opt-in state. Opt-in means banks can only share or sell customers' information if the customer has opted to allow it by giving explicit permission. But no. The bankers' lobbyists wanted it all, including the despised "opt-out" provision, in which customers must ask every financial business they deal with to keep their data private. All-or-nothing has now left the banks with nothing.
Next, when Protect Our Privacy got the bill referred, banks announced they had no intention of selling any customers' information. OK, then why did you need the ability to do so? Why was the GBL's "opt-out" provision so important during the Legislature? Oh, they said, it wasn't. "We never thought this was an opt-in, opt-out issue," said a bankers' association president, who had not been present in the Capitol when the bill was hotly contested for weeks on that very angle.
Then the governor got involved. When the referral qualified last summer for the ballot, he asked legislators to suspend the law (they didn't). Uh, governor, where were you in March? You supported and signed this thing, "emergency clause" and all. People wondered why, if a law needs to be suspended, it got signed in the first place.
Next, the bankers' lobbyists registered the phrase, "Protect Your Privacy" and said with a straight face that they weren't trying to confuse anyone.
Now, the campaign itself. Right up to the end -- and even after Tuesday's vote -- supporters of the law naively insisted, "it's not about privacy." Well, to the voters it was. That the financial institutions and their lobbyists could never see this and steer away from their out-of-touch campaign is what doomed them to a walloping at the polls.
And one of their lower campaign tactics, tearing apart referral co-leader Charlene Nelson of Casselton by disparaging her as a right-wing fringe element, didn't get anywhere.
Finally, the television ads -- the ones with brick walls zooming across the landscape. The law's supporters had gambled on simplicity, but it only led to viewers' complaints that the ad didn't tell them what the issue was. In the end, the biggest wall was the one blocking the bankers' view of the electorate.
Cole is The Forum's Capitol correspondent in Bismarck. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org