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3-2 Letters to the Tribune
March 1, 2019

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The Devil is in the details

The people of North Dakota recognized the importance of honest government in November, adding Article XIV to the Constitution to create an independent Ethics Commission, institute meaningful prohibitions on gifts and demand transparency in campaign funding. Now the Legislature faces the challenge of implementing Article XIV in a meaningful way.

As President and CEO of Coalition for Integrity, a non-profit organization that works to combat corruption, I can attest that ethics reform in North Dakota is long overdue. When we released the States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public Officials (S.W.A.M.P) Index, which rates the 50 states and D.C. on the laws and regulations governing ethics and transparency, North Dakota received a score of 0 out of 100. Its last place ranking reflected the lack of an ethics agency, the absence of meaningful gift rules, and poor transparency in campaign finance and conflicts of interest.

Article XIV addresses each of these failings but the devil is in the details. At the most basic level, the Legislature must create an independent Ethics Commission with sufficient funding and a full-time staff. An effective ethics agency must have strong investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena, and the authority to conduct public hearings to ensure thorough and fair investigations. It further needs the power to impose a variety of sanctions including fines, injunctions, and personnel actions. Members of the Ethics Commission should be protected from removal without cause. Finally, gift rules should apply to all government officials and should prohibit gifts above a nominal threshold regardless of intent.

North Dakotans deserve an independent, effective ethics regime. We urge state legislators to support strong accountable, transparent government by passing without delay implementing legislation that meets this minimum standard.

Shruti Shah

President & CEO

Coalition for Integrity

Legislators will soon reveal their ethics and loyalties

Power corrupts. North Dakotans see that, and they hate it. Voters in two-thirds of the state's legislative districts passed Measure 1 which created the ethics amendment, Article XIV of the North Dakota Constitution. People who elected 59 percent of the Republican legislators and all of the Democrats have declared, "Enough! Turn this corruption train around."

Ignoring them, leaders of the Republican supermajority, their followers, and some Democrats are vigorously resisting legislation that the ethics amendment requires to implement reform. More than half - 81 House members - approved HB 1521, which violates constitutional requirements, severely handicaps the ethics commission, and allows corrupt behaviors to continue. They violated their sworn duty to uphold the state Constitution.

Legislators say that only a few of their colleagues are corrupt. If good ones are the majority, as they say, why haven't they fixed it? Instead, they follow powerful legislative leaders who have cozy relationships with the wealthy and powerful. We the people cannot be in the hallways and side-rooms to remind them every day: they are supposed to represent us. We shouldn't have to remind them.

The ethics amendment charts the course for a much more trustworthy government, but will legislators follow that path? Or are they "more interested in protecting their power and perks than doing what is right for North Dakota" as 82 percent of North Dakotans believe? At this historic moment, they are about to reveal their true selves.

Reach out now to achieve what the ethics amendment promises and to prevent needless taxpayer-funded lawsuits. Tell legislators you support ethical government, you expect them to follow Article XIV of the Constitution, and you will remember this when they run for re-election. You can move transparency and accountability from words in the Constitution into real life.It's simple.Tell legislators you want a faithful, common-sense implementation of the ethics amendment. Pass SB 2148, defeat HB 1521.

Ellen Chaffee

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