On Tuesday, November 6, citizens in North Dakota will vote on a ballot initiative that would go a long way to shedding light on financial influence over state government. Measure One would increase the transparency of spending in state elections, set limits on lobbying and misuse of campaign funds, and establish a state ethics commission.
Measure One focuses on bringing transparency and common-sense disclosure laws to the North Dakota legislature as it recognizes that voters have the right to certain information about the political messages they receive. Section 1 of this initiative would add a new article to the state constitution that would ensure transparency by mandating that money spent to influence elections and government decision-making is disclosed. Measure One would also task the state legislature with enacting specific disclosure laws within three years.
Measure One preserves the legislature’s authority to decide what information must be disclosed to vindicate the voters’ right to know. However, Section 1 ensures that the voters are never shut out of the legislative process by providing that if the government fails to require disclosure of relevant information about political campaigns and contributions to the public, voters may sue to enforce their right to know.
Transparency and disclosure are vital to effective democratic government. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees these rights and recognizes the interests voters possess in knowing who is paying for electioneering messages and lobbying efforts. Measure One therefore furthers First Amendment principles that the Supreme Court has embraced for decades: enhancing participation in democratic public debate, allowing for meaningful self-governance, and ensuring elected officials remain accountable to the people.
Transparency and disclosure help prevent special interests from secretly amassing power in elections and legislatures and ensure that voters have the information they need when choosing their representatives. By making sure voters have correct, timely, and sufficient information, Measure One will provide incentives to elected officials remain responsive to their districts, not their donors.