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Attorney general: North Dakota Ethics Commission can write lobbying definitions

Attorney general: North Dakota Ethics Commission can write lobbying definitions

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North Dakota Ethics Commission

Members of North Dakota's Ethics Commission are Paul Richard, Ward Koeser, Cynthia Lindquist, Ron Goodman and David Anderson. Assistant Attorney General Allyson Hicks is the board's legal counsel.

North Dakota's Ethics Commission can write rules defining "lobby" and "lobbyist" pertaining to gift restrictions, according to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

He issued an opinion on the matter Wednesday in response to the board's request for clarification on its authority to expand on the definitions relating to gifts. Commissioners have encountered conflicting language in state law and the constitution as they have established the board and its rules.

North Dakota voters in 2018 approved the five-member Ethics Commission in a constitutional initiative that also includes a lobbyist gift ban that takes effect Jan. 5. The 2019 Legislature passed Republican majority leaders' framework for implementing the measure.

Stenehjem wrote that the definitions of "lobby" and "lobbyist" in state government ethics law "limit the reach" of the board's gift rules and are "inconsistent" with the board's constitutional directive and authority. The Ethics Commission "has attempted to harmonize" the conflicting statute with the constitution by expanding the lobbyist definition, he wrote.

"It is my opinion that the Ethics Commission is constitutionally authorized to promulgate a rule defining 'lobby' and 'lobbyist' ... in a manner which expands the statutory definition of 'lobby' and 'lobbyist' in order to fulfill its constitutional mandate," the state's longest-serving attorney general wrote.

The Ethics Commission has purview over its members, state elected officials, candidates, lobbyists, lawmakers, legislative employees and governor’s Cabinet members. Its next meeting is Jan. 27 by videoconference.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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