As vice chairman of the House Special Committee on Ethics, I’m writing in response to the recent editorial authored by Jim Shaw titled “The unethical implementation of the ethics measure.” It’s unfortunate this continues to be necessary, but the four points made in the editorial are incorrect.
The first inaccuracy is in regard to the $500 “loophole larger than Russia” comment. The reporting threshold for all contributions was not changed from the current amount of $200 in the North Dakota century code. Any contributions above $200 cumulative must be reported to the secretary of state including name, address and amounts contributed. The Legislature did allow for an increase adjusted for inflation as stipulated by the passage of Measure 1. The $500 limit Shaw is apparently referring to is the 48-hour reporting period requirement that also was both in the current century code and not changed by lawmakers last session.
Shaw’s next incorrect assessment was of the “giant loophole passed by the Legislature” regarding gift giving. Measure 1 specifically banned gifts from lobbyists and the term lobbyist was already defined in the century code. That is exactly what the voters passed and the value of a gift was defined by the Legislature as anything of value rather than a dollar threshold. The Legislature responded exactly and specifically to what the authors of Measure 1 requested.
Third, Shaw says “lawmakers have shamefully voted that the names of whistleblowers can’t be kept confidential.” Certainly, Shaw would recognize that “due process” in the United States is crucial to allow those accused to face their accusers. The constitutionally protected due process language is the excuse House Democrats used to vote against final passage. That’s curious, however, because similar due process protections were included in the original bill House Democrats voted in favor of before crossover before they voted against it after crossover. Considering that approximately 94% of the money raised and approximately 92% of the individuals contributing to Measure 1 were from out of state, nobody should be naive enough to think those same out of state individuals would willingly lodge anonymous and false allegations of violations and never be required to allow the accused to know from where it came.
Finally, Shaw writes “because the ethics measure is a constitutional amendment, the lawmakers had no right to change it.” Lawmakers didn’t change the Constitution, and anyone who has had a middle school level civics course would know they can’t. Lawmakers can propose changes, only voters can approve an amendment to our Constitution.
It’s my hope that those in the media who intend on reporting and editorializing on this issue actually attend the interim committees regarding the study (assigned to the interim Judicial Committee).