North Dakota voters made it very clear by approving the Ethics Amendment to the state Constitution in 2018: we expect state government to become more transparent, ethical, and accountable.
As leaders of the 2018 initiated measure, we have been watching the commission’s first two years of work. The members are five conscientious, non-political people of various backgrounds. All they had at the start was a mandate from the Ethics Amendment and a scant budget.
The commission also had a problem: most state legislators vigorously opposed the Ethics Amendment and undermined it in the 2019 legislative session. The legislature has no authority over the Ethics Commission, whose authority comes straight from the Constitution, but the commission depends on the legislature for its funding.
The commission has done well to both honor the spirit of the constitutional amendment and be realistic in deciding the details so far. That changed with its new draft rules on conflict of interest.
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We have these concerns: the new rules contradict the Ethics Amendment, perhaps because the commission did not have accurate constitutional advice, and their scheduled hearing had no provision for citizens to talk with commissioners.
To fulfill its constitutional mission of strengthening our confidence in government, the commission must honor the Ethics Amendment, have access to constitutional legal expertise, and engage both public officials and citizens in its work. We encourage everyone to follow the Ethics Commission’s work including next steps with their draft conflict of interest rules. Find them at ethicscommission.nd.gov.
Dina Butcher, Bismarck
Ellen Chaffee, Bismarck
Butcher is president and Chaffee is vice president of the North Dakotans for Public Integrity.