FARGO - To see Fargo Rep. Jim Kasper on a stage in Bismarck recently, pontificating against a government ethics measure North Dakotans will vote on in November, was a gut-buster of Chris Rock proportions. Those of us old enough to remember still call him "Antigua Jim," based on a freebie vacation, er, fact-finding trip Kasper took to that Caribbean island years ago.
Or we could call him "Montreal Jim" or "Vegas Jim," because Kasper took lobbyist-paid vacations, er, fact-finding trips to those places, too.
That was way back in 2005 when Kasper was trying to bring Internet poker to North Dakota. He had to get facts! And the only way he could get them was to spend four days, expenses paid, getting wined and dined in Antigua! It's a safe bet Kasper's taken other lobbyist-funded junkets to exotic places in the 13 years since.
This is the life of a North Dakota legislator, and not just Kasper. Lobbyists host parties, buy dinners, cover your bar tab, fly you to warm and sunny places, give you things. They want legislators on their side, to curry their votes. And nobody seems to care all that much.
Maybe it's because the average citizen who doesn't have access to such luxury doesn't know. If they did, there's a chance they might say, "Industries with a vested interest in influencing politicians giving away thousands of dollars of free stuff smells an awful lot like bribery."
This is why a group calling itself North Dakotans for Public Integrity initiated what will appear on the November ballot as Measure 1, the North Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment. The bipartisan group's goal is government transparency.
Interestingly, the measure has the entrenched status quo in Bismarck squealing. For a bunch of people who squawk about the evils of government and the need for transparency, they sure act threatened.
They say it's unnecessary (Antigua Jim's flight history says otherwise), they say it's a violation of the First Amendment (hogwash, the federal government and a majority of states have ethics rules), they say the money to fund the measure comes from out of state (so does Harold Hamm's and the cash of dozens of lobbying groups). What they don't say is why having a government watchdog is a bad idea.
The measure lays out a handful of easy-to-understand objectives.
• It bans foreign money from North Dakota elections.
• It prevents personal use of campaign money.
• It restricts lobbyist gifts.
• It bans public officials from serving as lobbyists and makes it illegal for them to take jobs as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
• It creates a nonpartisan ethics commission to receive and investigate ethics complaints, among other things.
What is objectionable about any of those things?
But talk of ethics rules and oversight sure seems to get the Bismarck power structure riled up. It seems the good ol' boys and girls are worried about their spigot going dry.
The ethics measure is common sense. The arrogance of using Antigua Jim as the front man to defeat it is enough to tell you why.