The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is adding its name to the list of organizations opposed to Measure 1, the ethics commission, foreign political contribution ban, and conflicts of interest initiative that will be on the ballot in November.
Though it’s being promoted as an “anti-corruption amendment,” Measure 1 is actually so poorly written that it would institute a host of new restrictions and regulations on political speech and advocacy that would violate the First Amendment rights of all citizens.
“While North Dakotans have a right to know who is spending money to influence elections and government, this measure isn’t just about lobbyists and lawmakers,” said Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU of North Dakota. “It’s about all the people of North Dakota and our First Amendment rights. When it comes to the political process, we all have a right to be heard, and this measure jeopardizes that."
Section 1 of the measure is particularly concerning. It directs the legislature to institute laws requiring the “disclosure of the ultimate and true source of funds spent in any medium, in an amount greater than two hundred dollars, adjusted for inflation, to influence any statewide election, election for the legislative assembly, statewide ballot-issue election, or to lobby or otherwise influence state government action.”
There is no exception to this reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their personal point of view on a given campaign or piece of public policy. That leaves a constitutional mandate so broad that if a private citizen wants to travel to Bismarck to testify on a bill, they’d have to disclose any money spent on fuel, meals and lodging over $200. There’s also no exemption for the media. Talk radio hosts, newspaper columnists or bloggers who influence politics and policy with their reporting and analysis would likely be subject to these regulations, too.
“As citizens, we have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to watch how our political leaders and representatives use their powers and to express our own opinions and interests. Measure 1 has the potential to limit this,” Smith says. “We must be free express our views and preferences and work to see that government responds to citizen views, thus holding those in government accountable,” Smith said. “Our First Amendment Rights are too important to let this constitutional mandate pass.”
About the ACLU of North Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection, and privacy are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBT communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for people of North Dakota.