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North Dakotans expect and deserve better

As North Dakotans, we value honesty and integrity, and we want a government that reflects those values. We rightly expect the friends and neighbors elected to represent us to be transparent and accountable while they're in Bismarck. That's why ou...

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As North Dakotans, we value honesty and integrity, and we want a government that reflects those values. We rightly expect the friends and neighbors elected to represent us to be transparent and accountable while they’re in Bismarck. That’s why our state requires political parties to report publicly from whom they receive and how they spend political contributions. When it comes to our local, legislative and statewide candidates, however, we only require them to report publicly where they receive their contributions.
As it stands, there are no rules about how a candidate or elected official can or cannot use campaign contributions, including for personal use. If such a law did exist, there is no agency or commission in place to ensure to the public that candidates or elected officials do not improperly spend those funds. Are legislators and candidates using campaign contributions as personal income to, for example, take vacations? Buy themselves a boat? A car? A condo down south? Well, if they are, they have violated no laws. Believing that is wrong isn’t partisan. Trying to fix it, thus far, has been.
Based on voting records over the last three legislative sessions, the Democratic-NPL is the only political party in North Dakota that finds the absence of basic checks and balances unacceptable. We have been fighting for more transparency and accountability in how our elections are run and how our officials perform, and in our opinion, the public deserves that fight.
Ethics commissions have been established across the country to provide transparency and accountability to the public. These commissions ensure that campaign contributions are raised and spent appropriately. They ensure that candidates and elected officials are behaving properly. That is why, with the exception of North Dakota, 49 states in our country have some kind of commission or committee regarding ethics in campaigning and governing.
A recent segment on “Last Week Tonight” highlighted this sad reality. Just as North Dakota Republicans in power will continue their tired argument that transparency and accountability are unnecessary, the Democratic-NPL will make the case that the public deserves sunlight in our government. Even President Ronald Reagan used the phrase, “Trust but verify.” If those who oppose this level of openness have nothing to hide, it follows necessarily that there is no reason to oppose it.
As our Democratic-NPL Senate and House leaders wrote during the 2015 legislative session: “At the very least, creating an ethics commission would help avert ‘the perception that unethical conduct could occur.’ In that regard, it could only help. The worst that could happen is that the ethics commission becomes the equivalent of a group of Maytag repairmen lacking work as honest North Dakota lawmakers mind their scruples.”
We like to believe all North Dakotans are honest and ethical. If it’s true, what are we afraid of? The Democratic-NPL isn’t afraid of an ethics commission, and we will continue the fight for more transparency and accountability in our elections.

Kylie Oversen, a Democrat, represents District 42 in the North Dakota Legislature and is the chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL.

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