A North Dakota non-partisan group is calling on voters to bolster conflict-of-interest rules in the state’s constitution.
A virtual press conference was held Tuesday morning to discuss some of the reforms they want enacted in state government.
Article XIV of North Dakota’s Century Code states: “A lobbyist may not knowingly give, offer, solicit, initiate, or facilitate a gift to a public official.”
However, members of the North Dakotans for Public Integrity — or NDPI — said that exemptions in the article can create a conflict of interest.
NDPI Vice President Ellen Chaffee called out current elected officials who she says are in compromising relationships with special interest groups and or individuals.
“Over time, people lose confidence in government, lose hope that their issue will be fairly decided,” said Chaffe.
Chaffee said organizations that contribute to a campaign then drive the decisions of the elected official, which may or may not align with their original platform.
Sarah Vogel served as the North Dakota Ag Commissioner for nearly a decade and says it’s not always cash that is offered.
“After I won, the second time I ran, I saw like a different world, I was offered an all-expense-paid trip to the master’s golf tournament. And this was by a person who was a contractor,” said Vogel.
Aaron McKean, legal counsel at Campaign Legal, points that as of right now the ethics commission says the campaign contributions don’t create a conflict of interest. However:
“The U.S. Supreme Court found that campaign donations can create conflicts of interest. And for those officials who have received donations that may appear to be conflicts of interest, not only is recusal permitted but in some cases, it is required,” said McKean.
The NDPI said there are several solutions that they hope can be enacted.
They laid options on the table; one is to stop campaign contributions from outside organizations going forward and for politicians who have received those contributions in the past to no longer accept them in the future.
The other is to set a dollar amount, where, if donations fall below that amount, the contribution would then be acceptable.
Chaffe said, “Or we would expect people or organizations who are regulated to stop offering them.”
The Ethics Commission is holding a public hearing to address the proposed Ethics Commission Rules next Tuesday at 9 a.m.