North Dakotans for Public Integrity, a local nonpartisan group will be filing an anti-corruption amendment to the Secretary of State’s office today. If approved and with enough signatures, voters will have the opportunity to solidify rules and create mechanisms to hold politicians accountable and increase transparency for the public. In some instances, politicians have refused to act. It is time voters take the lead, after all, they are the boss.
The amendment would produce a number of safeguards regarding a politician’s behavior in office, campaign donations and lobbyist gifts, and create an ethics commission. After years of out-right defeating similar proposals in the Legislature, the 2017 session took small steps in adding some transparency. These changes followed the overwhelming 2016 voter passage of a requirement that legislators need to live in the district they represent. Here is the thing, there is little for enforcement of these rules. This is where an independent ethics commission is needed.
Right now there is little in state law to do with corrective action to uphold the integrity of our institutions. The Attorney General’s office has a very limited role. In many instances, people are required to go to the public official themselves with a complaint. What the officials decide to do in response is up to them, including simply ignoring the complaint. Some areas of interest that show the need for an ethics commission can be found in the attachment below. Specifically the complaint for Elected Official, Government Employee, Misuse of Public Funds, State Agency, and Whisleblower. It is a PDF from the Attorney Generals office regarding public complaints.
The pushback against this citizen-led attempt at good government will be telling. Some will try desperately to label this as a partisan push or a political witch hunt. Simply look at the nonpartisan nature of the group that created this amendment and you’ll quickly realize attempts to label this as such should not be taken seriously. I’ll also be watching where the funding for this potential campaign comes from.
The question that will need to be answered is why politicians and those well-connected individuals and organizations dislike these attempts. This is about good governance. If appropriate behavior abounds, then there is nothing to worry about. Just as the organizing group is nonpartisan, so to should be the support for this measure.